Sprint globally, live locally

August 22, 2006

Last week Liz and I discovered that a former world-class sprinter lives in our neighborhood.

As we drove up 23rd Avenue South on Friday evening, I happened to notice that the car in front of us sported both a track and field sticker from LSU (which has a dominant women’s track program) and a personalized license plate that said “TAPLIN.” Somewhere in my brain, a neuron fired.

“Hey, isn’t there a really good sprinter named Cheryl Taplin?” I wondered aloud.

Liz didn’t know, but she quickly found out once we got home. A “Where are they now?” article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had all the answers:

For more than a decade, after moving from Cleveland High School to Louisiana State to the U.S. national team, Taplin, 33, was a world-class sprinter.

She was a natural at track, turning out at Cleveland as a ninth-grader on a whim and claiming 19 state titles as a teenager, counting high school and AAU competition. She had her pick of colleges, choosing perennial powerhouse LSU over UCLA. She shared in seven NCAA indoor and outdoor team championships while in Baton Rouge, and was a 16-time All-American for events won, which included three national titles as a 400-meter relay runner. She won Goodwill Games and World Cup gold medals, and barely missed qualifying for the Olympic Games….

Yet at the end of 2000, Taplin walked away from running. She had torn an Achilles tendon next to her heel, and the recovery was painstaking. She was low on money. She had suffered another Olympics disappointment, though showing up for the trials in gimpy yet game condition was a victory in itself.

More pointedly, she left her sport because of what others were doing at her expense. Performance-enhancing drugs were in widespread use by her fellow track athletes, creating an uneven playing field.

“It was very unfair,” Taplin said. “That’s the part that was so aggravating because of all the work I was putting in with training and the mental part — and the mental part was as hard as the physical part. To a certain extent, you knew who was (using drugs) or had an idea. For the most part, a lot of my friends that I was really close with, we all kind of stopped (competing) around the same time.

“It was out of hand. We just couldn’t take it any more.”

Taplin came home. At the suggestion of a friend, she sent a resume to the Mariners and was hired within three weeks. Single, she lives in the same Beacon Hill apartment complex were she was raised, occupying the unit above her father, Irving, a retired military man.

Can the complaint about drugs be dismissed as sour grapes? I don’t think so. If Taplin had gotten to the Olympics, she probably would have done so as a member of the United States 400-meter relay team. So who was on that bronze medal-winning team? Chryste Gaines, Torri Edwards, Nanceen Perry, and Marion Jones. Gaines and Edwards subsequently served two-year suspensions for drug use, and Jones has admitted using steroids between 1999 and 2001. Seems like pretty good evidence that Taplin knows what she’s talking about.

According to the P-I article, Taplin is now the community services manager for the Seattle Mariners, which sounds like a good job. Regardless, the fact that she felt compelled to hang up her spikes because of apparently rampant cheating by her rivals is very sad.


  1. Greg, thanks for the the info. "Sad" is not enough. If you really analyze the wide-ranging implication of some people's false triumphs you really start to wish for perceived history to be rewritten, and for wrongs to be concretely righted…

  2. I remember being excited several years ago to see Cheryl Taplin running in elite track meets on TV, since she was a home town runner that I had seen in-person when I was running high school track at Garfield. She was one year ahead of me in school, and she certainly shared a pedestal in my mind with some of the other top runners in the league.

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