Forgotten champion of infamous Olympic final, Maricica Puica, is convinced she was unbeatable that day

Maricica Puica insists she would have won the 1984 Olympic 3000m title whether Mary Decker had stayed on her feet or not.

The Romanian blasted to gold after Decker was involved in a mid-race collision with Zola Budd, but she believes she would have won anyway.

“Even if Mary would have continued the race, she wouldn’t have won it either way,” says Puica in a book out this week called Collision Course. “Mary wasn’t in good shape. She wasn’t prepared.

“I’m convinced that she did not rise up to continue because she understood that she couldn’t do anything about the final outcome. I was in such good shape that I was ready for a 3000m world record.”

Puica had won world cross-country gold earlier in the same year – retaining the title she had won in 1982 – and she possessed great speed and a fearsome finishing kick, illustrated by 800m and 1500m bests of 1:57.8 and 3:57.22.

Aged eight years older than Decker and sixteen years older than the teenage Budd, she also had experience on her side and came into the LA Games slightly under the radar after having missed the 1983 season due to injury and with the media preferring to focus on the Decker-Budd rivalry.

In contrast to Puica, Decker had injured herself at the US Trials a few weeks before the Games and spent a month aqua-jogging in a desperate attempt to retain fitness, while Budd had only just turned 18 and was mentally and physically exhausted after a 12-month period of non-stop track racing together with the pressure from the press and public following her controversial move from South Africa to England in March 1984.

“I still remember the events of Los Angeles 1984 as if it happened just yesterday,” adds Puica, who celebrates her 66th birthday today (July 29) and is currently enjoying retirement in Romania, where she is feted as a national sporting heroine. “I remember how Mary Decker fell and I wanted to help her get up, but if I would have done that, stepped off the track to help, I would have been disqualified so instead I focused on the race.

“It’s unfortunate that she fell. All of us wanted to give their best in this race. If I had fallen I would have continued to run, but for Mary it was beyond her strength.”

» Collision Course by Jason Henderson is published by Birlinn and is out now priced £12.99