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Subject: Kim Gallagher, Olympic Track Medalist

stroke at 38
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Date Posted: November 21, 2002 7:32:49 EDT

Kim Gallagher, a slim but strong runner who overcame endless illnesses to win a silver medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and a bronze in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, died Monday in a Philadelphia hospital. She was 38 and lived in Oreland, Pa.

The cause of death was a stroke, her husband, John Corcoran, said. She learned she had colon cancer after the 1988 Olympics and stomach cancer in 1995. In remission from colon cancer, she resumed running and last competed in the 1992 United States Olympic trials.

Both Olympic medals came at 800 meters, and Gallagher was the only American woman or man to win an individual track medal in Seoul at a distance longer than 400 meters. Her 1988 Olympic time of 1 minute 56.91 seconds still ranks as the third fastest by an American woman at 800 meters, behind Jearl Miles-Clark (1:56.40) and Mary Decker Slaney (1:56.90).

Her athletic success was remarkable considering her health. Six months before the 1984 Olympics, she had surgery for multiple cysts on her ovaries caused by an estrogen imbalance. The condition reappeared until it was finally relieved by hormone treatment.

Years later, when colon cancer was diagnosed, Gallagher rejected her doctor's recommendation of surgery and chemotherapy, treating it with vitamins, diet and rest. The cancer went into remission, then reappeared in 1994.

A year later, she said: "I'm fine, I'm healthy, I'm strong. But I really can't work a full day. I get tired."

In 1996, she used a wheelchair, but she refused to see doctors and improved enough to walk with a cane.

Kimberly Ann Gallagher was born June 11, 1964, in Fort Washington, Pa., near Philadelphia. Her track career started at age 7 when she followed her 9-year-old brother, Bart, to his track club.

"He told me I couldn't join the club and not to hang around him," she once said. "I remember I was wearing clogs, and I knew that I was ready to do track, whatever that was.

"When I won my first trophy and it was as big as me, I knew I wanted to someday make the Olympic team."

At 8, she ran a 5:37 mile, the fastest by a girl that age. At 16, she finished eighth in the 800 meters in the Olympic trials.

Gallagher attended the University of Arizona for a semester and a half, training with the men's cross-country team. She left college, she said, because "world-class training and competing for a college don't go hand in hand."

Until college, she had been coached by her brother, Bart, who died in 2000. When she left college, he looked for an experienced coach for her and chose Chuck DeBus in California. DeBus coached her from 1983 to 1988, but he said her health prevented her from completing half her workouts. "Who knows how fast she could have run if she could have trained like a normal person?" he told The Los Angeles Times.

DeBus was later barred for two years by The Athletics Congress, then the sport's national governing body, for supplying anabolic steroids to his athletes.

After Gallagher started training with DeBus, her 5-foot-5 body became muscular, although her weight seldom exceeded 108 pounds. She said she never took steroids.

"I never wanted to look like all those pumped-up, big-looking, talking-weird women," she said. "I liked my looks too much."

Gallagher insisted she never loved the sport. She liked what it brought, especially a Mercedes-Benz and a Malibu home after her 1984 Olympic success.

She is survived by her husband; her 13-year-old daughter, Jessica Smith; her mother, Barbara of Philadelphia; and her father, John of Benson, Ariz.

She summed up her career by saying: "I needed to run for all the wrong reasons. I needed to run to keep my shoe contract. I needed to run to pay my bills. I learned a huge lesson. When I ran in the 1984 Olympics, I was going to be a star. I was going to make so much money, and I did.

"But it doesn't last if you're not devoted to what you're doing. I was not devoted to my running, and it showed. I don't get a great joy from running or training or going out and doing all the work. Running is not something I love, but I like excelling at things that I am good at."

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