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Loss of vision but not focus of finishing line

SEVILLE, AUG 28: Maria Runyan is legally blind. But that didn't stop her from reaching the finals of the 1,500m at the World Athletics Ch...

SEVILLE, AUG 28: Maria Runyan is legally blind. But that didn’t stop her from reaching the finals of the 1,500m at the World Athletics Championships last evening.

The 30-year-old American uses a simple racing truth to find her way. “I know where the finish line is,” she said after clocking a personal-best of 4:5.27 seconds. “It’s always at the end of the straight away.”

Runyan, who began losing her vision at age nine, was jostled several times in a tight race, finishing fourth in her heat to reach tomorrow’s final.

Those crowded conditions — she probably ran about 1,510 metres as she changed lanes to stay out of trouble — would be taxing for others. But they were near-perfect for Runyan.

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“Tonight’s race was really ideal as far as my vision goes because we were really close together,” said Runyan, who sees everything with a blur and almost nothing that’s more than 15 feet away.

“I didn’t see any clocks in the race, I didn’t recognise faces.”

The quickest time in the two heats — the top10 runners reached the final — was fellow-American Regina Jacobs in 4:04.75. Runyan’s time was ninth of 10.

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“I think my vision may be more of a factor when I get to the final,” admitted Runyan, whose vision is corrected from 20/800 to 20/300 with contact lenses.

“I don’t even know how to approach the finals,” she added. “I might be running scared a little bit. I’m definitely in a very elite field.”

Runyan won four gold medals in the 1992 Paralympics and another gold in ’96. She also placed 10th in the heptathlon in the US Trials in ’96 and set an American 800m heptathlon record in the process.The quick time in that race convinced her the future was in the middle distances. So she abandoned the hurdles and high jump of the heptathlon to focus on the 1,500m.

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Running on the track is probably the safest place for her. She said she never goes for night runs in her neighbourhood, and even in the day she’s “at times startled by a person here, a sign there, or a parking metre.” “But I guess I’m soused to my eyesight being the way it is,” she added. “I learned to run track as a legally blind person. I don’t know any different, and I don’t know how everyone else sees it. I just know what it’s like for me.”

“Running the street I can get up and off the curbs pretty good,” she added. “Nobody seeing me run on the streets or trails has an idea I have a vision loss.”

The same goes for the 35,000 spectators yesterday at the Olympic Stadium.

First published on: 29-08-1999 at 12:00:00 am
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