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Army Wife Colander-Richardson Caps Women's Olympic Gold

By Tim Hipps
Special to American Forces Press Service

SYDNEY, Australia, Oct. 4, 2000 – La Tasha Colander-Richardson anchored the U.S. women to victory in the 4x400-meter relay event Sept. 30 to close the ring on the Games for Army wives.

The relay was the last women's event of the Games. An Army spouse, Nancy Johnson, won the first gold medal in Sydney, in the women's 10-meter air rifle match. Quite a coup for a couple of soldiers' wives, eh mates?

"I must say that this is sweet!" beamed Colander-Richardson, who was clocked with Team USA's second-fastest leg of 50.68 seconds after taking the baton and a 12-meter lead from five-medal- winner Marion Jones, who'd blown the race open with a 49.40 third leg.

That sweetness more than compensated for Colander-Richardson's disappointment after failing to advance past the second round of the women's 400 meters.

"I had to let go of the 400," explained Colander-Richardson, 24, a native of Portsmouth, Va., who lives in Angier, N.C., just outside Fort Bragg. "I couldn't dwell on it. I had to get ready for the four-by-four. So I just said to myself: 'Look, that's over. It's time to focus on the four-by-four.'

"I knew we still had an opportunity to go for the gold, so that's what I did. I put all my energy into the four-by-four. So it was a good thing that I just let it go."

La Tasha's husband, 2nd Lt. Roderick Richardson, is a member of Battery B, 1/377th Field Artillery, at Fort Bragg, N.C. She happens to be, as Jones was quick to point out, one of three University of North Carolina Tar Heels on the gold-medal-winning foursome.

Three-time Olympian Jearl Miles-Clark, 34, of Gainesville, Fla., ran the first leg in 51.4 seconds, giving Team USA the early lead. Monique Hennagan, 24, a Tar Heel from Columbia, S.C., barely maintained the lead with another 51.4-second effort.

And then along came Jones, the most famous Tar Heel since Michael Jordan. Nothing, not even Australia's Cathy Freeman, could keep Jones from striking gold on this night -- not after she settled for bronzes in the long jump Sept. 29 and the 4x100- meter relay earlier in the evening.

"When I came off the last curve I felt surprisingly good," Jones said. "I had been really concerned that when I hit that last straightaway that my legs would say: 'No more, baby, no more.' But I brought it on in to La Tasha."

Then the Army wife had her say.

"Jearl positioned us very well on the first leg," she said. "On the second leg, Monique kept us out there in the front. And then, Marion Jones, yeah, the girl Marion Jones -- she controlled it and she kept the lead and she increased the lead. And I saw her coming and I knew that I was going to lay it out on the line. I was going to put it out there and hold it in that last hundred with all the strength I could muster.

"I just kept turning it on, turning it on, turning it on. And I believe that we did an awesome job and it came out phenomenally."

(Tim Hipps is the Army Community and Family Support Center's Olympic correspondent.)

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