Waiting in his room, Marty Liquori tried not to think about Kipchoge Keino and the race they would run in four hours. He leafed through Francis Bacon's essay, Of Revenge, reading out loud: "That which is past is gone and irrevocable, and wise men have enough to do with things present and to come." But he couldn't forget the evening four months back when Keino had humiliated him in the mile at the Philadelphia Track Classic.
Later that afternoon he would get his pride back, beating Keino over 1,500 meters at the Martin Luther King Games in Villanova, Pa., but now he was still, in his words, "brickin'. You know, he's the only miler of any repute that I haven't beaten. The recent great ones—[Bodo] T√ºmmler, [J√ºrgen] May, [Jim] Ryun and Keino—well, I've beaten three of them. Now I want four of a kind. That's a hard hand to beat."
Liquori's father walked in. He held up a bandaged thumb. "Bowled a three-game series of 640," he said. "With a bad thumb."
"Great," said Marty.
May 24, 1970
His father talked about bowling for 15 minutes. Outside, in the hall, his mother sat alone. "I can't stand to be with Marty on days of races," she said. "He's just so wound up, and I'm scared to death." When his father left, Liquori watched an old Army movie on television—the same one he had seen, on another channel, the night before.
Last week was a strange one for Marty Liquori. Faced again with the specter of Keino, he became more intense, testier. "He's on edge," said his Villanova teammate, Dick Buerkle. "I've never seen him like this." "It's the fear of losing," Liquori said. "It's the loss of face. It's not so much wanting to beat Kipchoge Keino. It's my not wanting Marty Liquori to be embarrassed." Rather than spending early afternoons hitting short irons, as is his habit, he lay quietly in bed reading or just thinking. Tuesday night he dreamed not only of Keino but of all five Kenyans who would be at the meet. They were running races with their hands clasped behind their heads, smiling, showing everyone just how easy it is. Even while practicing, Liquori couldn't get Keino out of his mind. Striding through quarters, he would imagine the race. "I'd try not to think of it," he said, "but it kept popping into my mind. I'd think of relaxing, striding, then lifting and exploding. I'd run these imaginary races. I'd come off the last corner, lift, pass Keino—and always win."
Keino, on the other hand, seemed bored; he visited friends, walked the streets of Philadelphia. He and his compatriots went to visit Muhammad Ali. "He taught us how to box," said Keino. "We taught him how to run."
He performed a Kenyan version of the Ali Shuffle—something on the order of Fred Astaire trying to do the Funky Chicken.
Mornings, Keino would disappear, then just as quickly reappear. He was, actually, on a sense trip. He would be up at 6 "to run a couple of miles around the banks. Got to be early. The first one up gets fresh air." He would eat at coffee shops ("Service is too slow in the hotel"), frown at the sound of a truck jouncing through a chuck hole ("Not so much noise in Kenya"), giggle at a girl dodging cars as she crossed the street ("Form doesn't count. She's running for her life"), dismiss The New York Times ("Too heavy"), Cardin suits ("Too many buttons"), American ties ("Too wide") and French after-shave lotion ("Ugh, that's for girls").
Thursday he visited Germantown High School and finally had to talk track and the coming race.
"What do you think about running against Marty Liquori Saturday?" a student asked.
Keino smiled. "Oh, I don't care." The kids laughed, and Keino held up his hand. "It's O.K. It's O.K. I don't think there will be trouble."
"Will he give you more competition than Jim Ryun?" another student asked.
"In top-flight competition, you know, everyone is going to be good. But...."
He was unworried, and later that day explained why. "You see," he said, "I feel when I go to run in a race my main ambition is to take part in the competition. The race is there. I'm mentally and physically fit. I'm not going to worry. Why worry? I get an invitation to a race. I accept it. That means I'm ready.
"Now, who eventually wins is certainly a great man. I always have the determination to win. I try to be the best. But if someone else wins, I have to resign myself to that. What am I to do? I can't stop him from winning. I can't grab him and hold him. If I give everything in me, how can I be unhappy? You have to lose sometimes. You may be top today. But tomorrow it's not going to be as today. You can't expect to win all the time. You have to be a madman to think that."
Liquori, for one, was having nothing to do with Keino coming for any other reason than to win. "They wouldn't let him out of the country if he weren't in good shape," he said. Friday afternoon he walked into the locker room; a newspaper story headlined KEINO OUT TO SHOW LIQUORI WHO'S NO. 1 was posted on the bulletin board. Liquori ripped it off, read it, then dropped it on the floor. The story had mentioned that last month Keino had run a 3:37.5 in the 1,500 (equivalent to a 3:54.5 mile). Liquori's best mile this year was a 4:01 relay leg. A minute later someone reposted the clipping. Liquori ripped it off again, dropped it on the floor and stepped on it. "No need for that," he said.
He didn't finally relax until that night. At dinner with his girl he ate a filet, sipped a Beaujolais—la Reine Pédauque—and topped it off with a chocolate parfait. "Keino's attitudes, his actions, man, I tell you, they're weird," he said. "He comes from a different side of the world. A side that's unknown to us. We don't know how his mind works. We don't know his ambitions or motives or philosophies. We can't even begin to understand him. It may have nothing to do with races you run against him. But still you wonder. The apprehension. He doesn't do the logical things that we expect. I have to think he really doesn't know what he's doing. Running's something that comes so easily to him. It bugs me that we have to work so hard for something that seems to just come to him. It does no good worrying about it. But before I run him sometimes I just lie in bed and think how, nice it would be to have been born at altitude."
Saturday's race wasn't to be at altitude, so everything was considered even. "Even, hell," Liquori said. "He'll be able to run those first three laps on a cloud." Keino's teammates weren't so sure. He had been scheduled to run the anchor leg in the two-mile relay, which would take place more than an hour and a half before the 1,500. Keino warmed up in a far corner of the field. Naftali Bon, Kenya's top half-miler, walked up to him. "Kip," Bon said, "we don't think you should run."
"Why?" Keino said.
"Well," Bon said, "you will have to run fast in the 1,500. You are too old to run two races."
"What?" Keino looked at his teammate in disbelief. "Too old?"
"We think it would be good for you not to run," Bon said with finality.
Liquori was told that Keino was out of the relay. "It wouldn't make any difference one way or the other," he said,
Keino watched as the relay team won in a so-so 7:19. "They kicked me off," he said. "They wanted their own team." He was impassive until the splits were announced. Twenty-four-year-old Charles Asati, the lead-off man, had a 1:51. "I could do that," 30-year-old Kip Keino said. "I could do 1:51. And it would have been a nice warmup."
Leaving for his final warmup, Liquori told a friend, "Keep me loose on the turns." The friend nodded, then walked over to Liquori's girl.
"How is he?" she asked.
"It'll be a good race," he said.
"I don't want a good race," she said. "I want a winner."
For three-quarters, it looked as though she would be disappointed. Keino lagged through the first turn, then shot to the lead. At the quarter he was 10 yards ahead of Liquori, by the half the lead was 30 yards.
"That's his typical trick," Liquori thought. "He's got to come back. Just keep your own pace, baby."
At the 660 Keino had looked back, and Liquori was no closer. But by the gun he was 20 yards behind. "He's coming back," Liquori thought. "But I'm getting tight. This isn't going to depend on speed. It'll be who's strongest."
As they came up the backstretch, Keino looked again. "I'm still here," Liquori thought. He stared at Keino, and their eyes met. "And I'm coming."
In the final turn Keino looked a third time. "That's it," Liquori thought as they came off the corner. "I have him. He's dead."
Keino was in the second lane, so Liquori moved in. Then, curiously, Keino pulled up some 50 yards from the finish, turned, looked Liquori in the eye and smiled. He was a defeated man. His strength had failed. He had nothing left.
"That son of a gun," Liquori muttered. Then he yelled at Keino, "Don't quit, dammit." He, too, slowed to a jog, finishing in 3:42.6, with Keino more than a second behind. Asati, Bon and Robert Ouko, Keino's teammates, stood amazed. "He's in shape," Ouko muttered. "In good shape. I don't know what happened. We wanted to give him the race. We told him he couldn't run the relay so he would do well here. Then this."
Keino put his hand on Liquori's shoulder. "Good. Well done," he said.
"Let's take a lap together," Liquori suggested. Keino declined, then took one himself. He was as mysterious in losing as he is in winning.
"What happened?" he was asked.
"Something," Keino said.
"Did you misjudge the finish?"
"Did you let him win?"
"Did you feel you were running alone when you were so far ahead?"
"I was running others. You know, it was a good race. Only one man can win."
Liquori bristled when it was suggested that Keino might have let him win. "He's not a competitor," Liquori said. "He doesn't run against people. He runs against himself. He's done it before. He'll do it again. When he feels he's beaten, he quits."
"Some people think he didn't want to win," a reporter said.
"If he didn't want to win, he wouldn't have come here," Liquori snapped back.
With that, Liquori went to his room to uncork a bottle of Taylor's pink champagne. He poured some for his family, for his girl and for himself. "Now there's no one walking around that I haven't beaten at least once," Liquori said. "I'm happy. But it's too early to think I've conquered everything."
He reached over, picked up his dogeared copy of American and English Essays and turned again to Bacon. "Like the man wrote," Liquori said, " 'They do but trifle with themselves that labor in past matters.' The race is already past. And, now, the future."