If you will recall last week's opening chapter, those traveling Kenya cops, Chief Inspector Kipchoge Keino and his faithful corporal, Naftali Bon, were subdued in a series of misadventures in Los Angeles. Keino had been a 10th of a second too slow in the mile; Bon had been well beaten in the 1,000. But no matter. There is an old Kenyan proverb that says that if you lose one footrace in L.A. there is always another to be run in Philadelphia. And so, after a quick trip to Disneyland and another to Hollywood to meet Raymond Burr, the pair packed their suitcases, said so long to smog and headed East for last Saturday night's Philadelphia Track Classic.
For Keino it would be a duel in the mile with Marty Liquori, America's top middle-distance runner now that Jim Ryun is taking a sabbatical, and a chance to buy a pair of semi-mod brown slacks. The Olympic 1,500-meter champion wanted bell-bottoms, but Aish Jeneby, the 240-pound Kenya deputy sports officer, told him to forget it. "He wanted to be Kenya's first hippie," said Jeneby, shaking his head. For Bon it would be another go at the terrors of running indoors, and Jeneby was wondering how to tell him the track in Philadelphia was even more difficult than the one that had panicked him in Los Angeles.
"You see," Jeneby finally said on Thursday afternoon, "the track here is 12 laps to the mile." Bon cocked his head in puzzlement. "Well, the one in Los Angeles was 11 laps to the mile," Jeneby continued. "That means that the track here is shorter, the turns are tighter, the banks are higher." Bon did not look at all happy.
Keino looked at Bon and laughed. "Don't worry," Keino said. "Tomorrow we'll go out and practice on the track. There's nothing to worry about."
February 2, 1970
Out at Villanova, Andy O'Reilly, one of Bon's rivals in the half mile, was laughing, too. "If Bon thinks he had trouble in Los Angeles, wait until he gets on the track here. Those banks will drive him crazy. I ran a 52 quarter the other day and I couldn't hold the turns. Bon will run right off the track."
The Kenyans took their first look at the track Friday afternoon. At first glance it looked like an HO model of the Daytona Speedway. The turns are brutally tight and sharply banked, and Keino was already twice around the track before Bon could bring himself to step on the well-scarred boards. "Come on," shouted Keino, flashing easily into a turn. Bon began a slow trot. "Indoor track is different," said Jeneby. "It's not even the same sport. But it doesn't seem to bother Kip. Listen to his feet. Tap, tap, tap. He runs with such a light touch." Bon came running past. Thump, thump, thump. "Bon does not run with a light touch," said Jeneby.
While Bon was thinking about the track, Liquori was out at Villanova thinking about Keino. Liquori had been scheduled to fly to Columbus, Ohio on Friday night to accept an award, but at the last minute he had been talked out of it by Jumbo Elliott, his coach. Last summer, feeling he wouldn't have much competition in the Classic mile, he had agreed to make the trip; he could fly back Saturday for an easy race.
Liquori didn't find out about having to run against Keino until a few weeks before the race. He cornered Elliott. "Oh," said Jumbo, "I guess I forgot to mention it. Don't worry, you'll kill him."
"Yeah, sure," said Liquori, "and on a track I hate."
"No, no," said Elliott. "You love this track."
"I hate it," said Liquori.
This would only be Liquori's second serious mile in six months; on Jan. 9 he won a 4:05.5 mile in College Park, Md. He was building himself slowly into shape for this week's Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden. Then the Kenyan appeared. "A distance runner survives by working out consistently over a period of, say, four months, keeping his enthusiasm up, aiming for a certain big race," said Liquori. "Keino's popping up here made me decide whether I wanted to crash and treat this as a big race, or just treat it as another race. If I wanted I could have crashed and been in better shape. But then I would have been through in March. So I decided to treat it as another race. To me it's not who's in the race that matters but the importance of the race you're in."
So it would be just another race?
Liquori laughed. "It will be an important race if I win," he said. "It won't be important if I lose. The chips are against me. I haven't trained that long, So it won't bother me if I lose. If I win it will be a great psychological boost, because I figure Keino is too proud to be over here and not be in good shape. But how do you figure him? No one knows his workouts; no one know; where he lives, what goes on in his mind. He doesn't follow any patterns. He does things on the track you might expect from a kid. You can't understand it. If there is a pattern to him, it is that you know he will lead and you know you can outkick him. And he still doesn't scare me like a Jim Ryun. See, Keino's been beaten. He's been beaten more than once. But, darn, how do you figure him?'
Elliott figured him to be plenty tough. And so on Thursday night he decided Liquori's trip to Ohio had to be short-circuited. He called his prized miler. "Marty, it's snowing out there," he said. "They expect four inches. You better not go." The trip was canceled.
Later someone asked Elliott if he was really that worried about the race. "Yeah," he said. "Marty isn't the best indoor runner. He's not very graceful. And that Keino has got such a light touch. Such beautiful form."
"All I know," said Liquori, "is that I have to stay within 10 yards of him. If he gets 11 yards in front of me, I'm in real trouble."
Saturday night Bon got the first call. At least he didn't have to face Ralph Doubell, Australia's Olympic champion at 800 meters who had beaten him in Los Angeles. Doubell was running the 1,000 in Albuquerque, where he broke Peter Snell's world record by half a second with a 2:05.5. Bon started last, fought the turns all the way and finished last, a good 40 yards to the rear of Juris Luzins, who won in 1:50.9, the fastest ever on a 12-lap track.
Then came Keino and Liquori, and for once the Kenyan was content to let someone else set the pace—just as long as it wasn't Liquori. For the first quarter Keino was third, seven yards in front of Liquori. Then he moved up to second and he stretched his lead over Liquori to 18 yards, and you know now who was in trouble. At the half Keino made his big move, taking the lead from Joe Lynch of the Santa Monica AA and stretching his margin over Liquori to 30 yards. It was over. Now only the clock was to be beaten. Keino flashed across the finish line in 4:00.6, three full seconds under the meet and Civic Center record—and the second-fastest mile on a 12-lap track. (Ryun holds the record of 3:58.8.)
Phil Banning, a freshman Villanova miler from England, was astonished: "A four-minute mile on this track! He's got to have feet of iron to go around corners like that."
As Keino, grinning broadly, crossed the finish line, a fan standing on the sidelines near the last turn threw his arms into the air. He also threw a wadded-up $20 into the air. The bill landed in the middle of the track. A second later the fan, realizing his error, landed on the bill and he managed to get back off the track before John Baker of Maryland, who finished second in 4:05.7, went by. Liquori was third in 4:08.9 and more than a little upset. As he walked back down the track, a teen-ager grabbed him from behind and shouted, "You only did a 4:08. What were you doing out there?" Liquori, who had been looking at the floor, blindly pushed the teenager away, then, growling, turned and started to unload a punch. He stopped just in time. The teen-ager was his brother Steve.
"It was a nice relaxed race," said Keino later, as he found himself the center of a swirl of autograph-seekers. "I never did know where Liquori was in the race. I just knew he was behind me. The race went as I planned." He laughed. "At the end he was still behind me." Keino was named the meet's outstanding performer, which is a nice going-home present; he left for Kenya on Monday. Bon, knowing he didn't have to face those indoor turns anymore, looked almost as happy.
After the race Liquori found seclusion in an equipment room and began to pace his anger away. In the pocket of his sweat shirt was a chocolate bar. He usually eats one an hour before a race for energy. This time he decided to wait until after the race. He left the candy bar alone. He spoke to no one. Finally he left, dodged reporters and went upstairs to Section E to see his parents and his girl. Later, cooled somewhat and managing a tight grin, he came downstairs. He said he had felt great for two laps, then nothing.
"Just nothing. I knew going through the turns that I wasn't running right, that I was in trouble. They ran a 60-second quarter and it was like a 58 to me. There I was. First I'd take one long stride, then one short stride, then one long, then short. Hell, forget it."
"Did you tie up?" someone asked.
"No. I ran just a nice smooth pace. Slow. Sort of boom, boom, boom. He got to me by going out so fast. And then I just never got it going. I sat back there concentrating too much on getting my stride right. Then I fell asleep about everything. I never really felt competitive the whole race."
He stood there, a tall, thin, good-looking kid, staring at the floor, thinking about it. Then he said: "Darn it, it's hard to believe how many beatings I've taken in Philadelphia. I hate this town more than W.C. Fields did. And I hate this lousy track."
A teammate, Two-Miler Dick Buerkle, came over and laid a hand on Liquori's shoulder. "Forget it," he said. "You've got to be weird to win in Philly."