25/05/2021   Rome 1987: the 10km women of memories of Kerry Saxby (AUS) and Marianne Torrelas (USA)



Rome 1987 was the second edition of the World Athletics Championships, but it was the first experience for women who competed up to the 1999 edition of Sevilla over the 10km distance.

The Rome edition was a very special edition, with exceptional heat and humidity.

A few athletes collapsed after the finish and three others fell on the synthetic tartan of the Olympic Stadium in Rome during the over 300m that took them from the marathon goal to the finish line.


The favourites of the eve were the athletes of the Soviet Union (Olga Kristhop, Irina Strahova and the rising star Yelena Nikolayeva), the Chinese (Yan Hong and Guan Pin, who, however, had been disqualified a few months earlier at the World Cup in New York, and Jin Bingjie), Mary Cruz Diaz (ESP), the 1996 European champion and Kerry Saxby (AUS).


We tracked down Kerry Junna-Saxby who we asked for her memories of that day.

Here's what she told us.



Yes I remember it very well. 

I was on 2 warnings and had to slow the pace so didn’t feel the heat compared to the judges and other athletes on the course. 

Once I had 2 reports in (red cards)  my coach yelled out to me on the sideline I slowed down so much that the Chinese almost ran into me. 

I was worried in that race as I got my first DQ at World Indoors while on world record pace. 

The heat always wasn’t the best situation. 


I lived in a town in Australia that had similar climate and left and moved south as it was too hard to train in summer. 

I moved to Sydney which was 800km south of Ballina which is on the New South Wales North Coast. 

I then moved to Canberra to join the Australian Institute of Sport and didn’t have to contend with the humid conditions there. 

So I felt for the girls in that race especially my team mate Lorraine Jachno who was one of the ones that collapsed.  


I now work as an Local Security Authority in Canberra. Lorraine is a teacher so I sometimes work with her. I will see her on Thursday and Friday this week at a school we both work as. Today this wouldn’t be a problem as they have races in cooler conditions. 


Look at Doha at World Championships in 2019 competing at 12pm at night and then Olympics being held in a place a lot further north than Tokyo. 

I still have great memories from that event in Rome.



In addition, we also asked Marianne Torrelas Daniel, now an appreciated international walking judge of the USA, who in that first edition of the World Championships also finished 24th in 48:27 about her memories.

Here's what she told us.



I remember being very excited to be part of the first group of women Race Walkers to compete in the World Championship. 

The announcers voice echoed in the enormous Roman stadium. 


We did one lap in a tight pack then off onto the road. The afternoon heat was oppressive on the sunshaded road but we were being cheered on by large crowds pressing against the barriers. 

Way up ahead on the return side of the road, I could see Kerry Saxby looking strong, Olga Krishtop looking like her arms were going to fly off her body and Irina Strakhova’s short, quick strides. 


Coming back into the stadium, we went through a long, cool tunnel, I remember thinking why did I feel so dizzy?. 

As we emerged onto the track. It didn’t help that they had a large (for that day and age)  Jumbo screen focused on us, the effect was disorienting to look at yourself on the screen (you couldn’t avoid seeing it as it was directly in the line of sight) and have a split second delay in your movement, rendering some of us even more dizzy. 


Rounding the track, I saw several of my competitors weaving badly, one veered completely off the track in front of me (perhaps Lorraine Jachno) and crashed on the ground, my instinct was to go over and help her but quickly realised that might disqualify her. 

I managed to finish, well off my best time but happy to be on my two feet. I looked around and it looked like a war zone, so many being carted off on stretchers ... I thought, surely this couldn’t be just the heat. 


At a press conference later, we were offended to hear that some of the media thought a 10km was too great of a distance for women and we couldn't handle the heat. We looked at each other, worried that we had fought so hard to get it in the World Championships, would this now impede having a women’s event in the Olympics? 

Then a Doctor jumped up on the stage and explained how when the body is overheated, if it is then suddenly exposed to a cool, damp environment, as we had had in the long tunnel, the blood starts to pool, pulling it away from the brain and dizziness can occur. 

Our plight seemed vindicated by the physiologic explanation. 

Alas, Olympic Games it was not to be in 1988 and we would have to wait till 1992, at which time, some of us were too old!





Videoclip of tne final part of the race (comment by Abdon Pamich): click here