EUGENE, Ore. -- Mary Slaney is ready to race again. Four months short of her 40th birthday, the best woman distance runner in U.S. history is mounting one more comeback, motivated by the raw deal she feels she got from the people who run track and field.
"I've been written off so many times," she said. "And I think every time people decide to write me off, or the scuttlebutt is `Well, she's finished,' it makes me just that much more determined to come back and do well.
"That's part of what I'm feeling now. It's like, I'm going to show you people you haven't taken what I really love totally away from me."
Slaney is entered in the 1,500 meters at this weekend's Drake Relays, her first serious race since she was cleared to run following her suspension for excessive levels of testosterone, detected in tests at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1996.
Slaney, backed by the considerable resources of Nike, fought the charges. She challenged the tests used by USA Track and Field and the International Amateur Athletic Federation, citing studies that showed testosterone can fluctuate greatly depending on such factors as age and menstrual cycle.
The names of those who test positively are not supposed to be made public until a hearing and the accused can respond to the charges. But Slaney's name was leaked, and last May the IAAF banned Slaney. The IAAF cited the slowness of USA Track and Field to act on the matter for the suspension.
When a hearing finally was held last September, the three-member panel unanimously agreed she was innocent and cleared her to run again. The IAAF refused to go along but referred the matter to arbitration.
That means Slaney is cleared to race worldwide, said Craig Masback, who took over as head of USA Track and Field in the months after Slaney's suspension. Masback sees no need for arbitration.
"I can't imagine there's any need for further discussion and I've told the IAAF that," Masback said. "There essentially was no reason for a suspension in the first place."
Slaney threatened to sue USA Track and Field unless it changes its testosterone testing procedures and reimburses her for her lost track season. The governing body has overhauled its testing since Masback took over.
Slaney and Masback, acquaintances from their days as competitors, have met several times to discuss her situation.
"I certainly feel like things are at least heading in the right direction now," she said.
Masback wouldn't comment on whether Slaney would be reimbursed or whether he felt she had suffered an injustice. He called Slaney "one of the greatest athletes of all-time" and said the world should welcome her back to racing.
Slaney said the year she spent dealing with the allegations was the worst of her career, worse than any of the serious injuries, worse than the nasty fall she took when she became entangled with Zola Budd during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
"I don't want to be bitter because I think if you're bitter, it sucks energy out of you and it defeats what you're trying to do," she said. "But I certainly haven't forgotten."
Slaney plans to run several races this year in her hometown of Eugene, including the Prefontaine Classic May 31 and the World Masters Games in August. She also intends to run the 1,500 or the 5,000 at the USA Championships in New Orleans in June and probably will compete in the Goodwill Games in New York in July.
Slaney won't run in Europe.
"It's not very much fun to go someplace where you don't feel welcome," she said. "And how can I go over there and concentrate on running well when I know as soon as I step off the plane everything is going to be focused on `the issue."'
One of her main reasons for running, she said, is to earn a trip to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. It's a realistic goal, her coach Bill Dellinger said, even though she will be 42 by then.
"She's running as well as she ever has," Dellinger said.
Slaney had a serious bout of the flu last winter, then got sick again this spring. In recent weeks, though, she's felt fine.
"It's a little bit nerve-wracking because I haven't really competed on the track since last April," she said. "But when I come out and have a good workout, I really get excited about racing again."