Feature10 Mar 2016

Diane Dixon, the front-runner of USA’s world indoor gold rush


USA's Diane Dixon on her way to winning the 400m (© Getty Images)

At some point during the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016, it is highly likely that the host nation will win their 100th gold medal in the history of the event.

The USA currently leads the all-time medals table for the championships with a tally of 95 gold medals, so are just five away from hitting a century.

But the USA’s first ever world indoor champion had all but forgotten about her landmark victory.

“It’s funny, I actually forgot about this win,” said Diane Dixon of her 400m triumph in Paris in 1985 at what was then known as the World Indoor Games, the forerunner to the IAAF World Championships. “I’d always thought 1991 was my first win.

“Looking back, I remember as a young 20-year-old not knowing fully of this event, but my coach always told me to go out there and win. It was all new to us and not many Americans knew how successful it would be.

“I had the opportunity to meet so many people and was given a case of Dom Perignon Rose along with my medal. I was elated with the win and being the first American to win a world indoor title. The time (53.35) was average but the win felt great.”

Dixon was USA’s sole medallist in 1985. The event gained official championship status in 1987 and was held in Indianapolis. The USA won six gold medals on that occasion, but all in men’s events. It wasn’t until 1991 that USA earned another gold medal in a women’s event; that too came from Dixon.

“In 1991, the stage was set,” recalls Dixon. “It was in Seville and the Spaniards had prepared for Sandra Myers to win. If you look at the video, you can see how the crowd was roaring for her to win.

“Maicel Malone, a collegiate athlete, had just broken my American record the day before I competed. My coach told me we had to regain my record, so I ran with a vengeance to win and break the American record, which I did.

“I always went straight to the front and never thought of anybody passing me and led from start to the end. On a global stage, this was very rewarding because I was running against the best in the world.

“1991 was special because I knew how important the World Champs were,” she added. “The presence of my coach supporting me made it extra special.”

The Indoor Queen

Dixon had her fair share of outdoor success during her career. She made the 400m final at the 1987 World Championships and 1988 Olympic Games, setting a lifetime best of 49.84 in the semifinals in Seoul. She also took gold in the 4x400m at the 1984 Olympics while still a teenager and was part of the relay team at the Seoul Olympics that set a still-standing North American record of 3:15.51.

But it was indoors where she excelled. She won her first US indoor title at the age of 16 before going on to win 10 more national indoor titles in succession between 1983 and 1992. While still a junior, she set a US indoor 300m record of 37.50 in 1983.

She set her first US indoor 400m record in 1985 with 51.94, one month after winning gold at the World Indoor Games. She broke that record when taking silver at the 1989 World Indoor Championships with 51.77. At that point, she owned the seven fastest indoor times by a US woman.

Dixon set her final North American indoor record at the 1991 World Indoor Championships in Seville when winning in 50.64. It was finally broken 19 years later by Francena McCorory.

“Running indoors was so easy for me because I lived on the east coast and trained indoors half of the year,” said Dixon, who was born and raised in New York. “The ‘Indoor Queen’ became my moniker because I was fearless and ran with confidence. I’d go out and cut in from the start, holding off my competitors. I also enjoyed the crowd and my supporters.”

Dixon is still a keen follower of the sport and now works as the head coach of men’s track and field at ASA College in Brooklyn.

“I am biased of course but I do love all the sprint races, especially the 400m,” she says. “I analyse each runner's style and often find myself yelling into the TV as though I am there.

“I will be watching the World Indoor Champs as usual,” she added. “I wish I could be there but I will be supporting by shouting through the TV.”

And no doubt Dixon, one of USA’s pioneers of indoor running, will be watching and cheering when her country wins its 100th medal.

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF