In the early 80s Mary Decker established herself as one of the best middle-distance runners. She was certainly one of the most celebrated female runners in the US. In 1982 Decker set 7 world records, 3 of them in only in 6 weeks, and was the fastest American runner at distances from 800m to 10,000m.
In 1980 Decker set her first world record, running a mile in a time of 4 min. 21.7 sec.. Primed for an Olympic medal, she was denied the chance to win in 1980 Moscow games because of the U.S. boycott. In that year she underwent surgery to repair a partially torn Achilles tendon. In 1981 Decker had another operation and missed almost a year of competition. By 1982 she recovered and got back to the running track.
On February 6, 1982, Decker broke 2 indoor world records in one race. In the 3000m race, her first 2000m were clocked at 5 min. 53.4 sec., breaking the previous record for 2000m by almost 2 sec. Decker finished the run with a time of 8 min. 47.3 sec. and broke the indoor record. At the same year Decker set the world record in the 5000m with a time of 15 min. 8.26 sec. she broke her own record in the mile run on 3 occasions in 1982. On February 19 she made an indoor time of 4 min. 20.5 sec. Her time was the fastest mile run time, indoor or outdoor, ever run by a woman. On an outdoor track on July 9 at she blazed the mile in 4 min. 18.08 sec., breaking both the indoor and outdoor records.
Decker continued to set world records. At the 1983 World Track and Field Championship In the 3000 m race she surprised everyone by never relinquishing the lead. She beat top Soviet runners Tatyana Kazankina and Svetlana Ulmasova. 4 days later in the 1500m run Decker again grabbed the lead early. She held it until the final curve, where Zamira Zaitseva, another Soviet runner, passed her. Decker gathered herself for the final kick and edged past Zaitseva to score her second victory at the meet.
Decker was considered as the favorite for the 1984 Olympic Games, held in L.A. Because of an overlap between events she could not compete in both the 1500 m and in 3000m. She chose the 3000m run. On the track she faced also Zola Budd, a teenage running sensation. One of the most controversial events in the Olympic games history occurred during that race. With 1300m remaining, Budd and Decker were among the pack of leaders. The two runners bumped, causing Budd to lose her balance. Decker tripped on Budd’s right foot, falling forward into the infield and pulling a muscle in her hip. Crying out in pain and frustration, she left the track.
After recovering, Decker returned to the track in 1985 to set yet another world record in the mile run.