For the first three-eighths of a mile, it could have been just another ho-hum footrace between a bunch of guys named Smith and Jones—or, as it turned out, Savage and Mosser. For weeks people in Philadelphia had been promoting the long-awaited match-up between Jim Ryun and Marty Liquori as the Dream Mile. But last Sunday, when the leader, a Manhattan College freshman named Joe Savage, idled past the three-eighths mark with Morgan Mosser of West Virginia on his heels, the fans began to wonder if they had come to the right stadium. Which was about the same time Jim Ryun was wondering why he was running so slowly, so he shifted gears and led the field through a 2:03.3 half-mile. "I thought the pace was too slow," he said later. "I hadn't done much speed work, and I didn't think I was ready for an all-out 220 at the end. I guess Marty had the same thoughts. We both figured the way to win was with a long, fast, last half mile."
Equally annoyed by the dawdling pace, Liquori fell in two strides behind Ryun. For 110 yards he waited for Ryun to turn it on. When he didn't, Liquori did, although it didn't make him happy. "Too soon to be out in front," he thought. He glanced over his shoulder and there was Ryun, gliding along a few steps to the rear. Liquori hit the three-quarters in three minutes flat. "Oh, my God," he thought. "It's still too slow." He knew what Ryun could do off that kind of pace, but he wasn't sure what he could do. "He's just sitting on my shoulder," Liquori thought, "and any moment he's going to eat me up."
Liquori, who had covered the third quarter in 56.5, kept glancing back over his shoulder. "I was running scared," he said. "That damn slow pace. It suddenly came to mind how he had blown so many other people, mature people like Keino and Bodo T√ºmmler, right off the track. I was going to sprint when he pulled up on my shoulder, but he never did until the last 110 yards."
"He's dying now," Ryun thought. "He's coming back to me." Emerging from the last turn into the straightaway, Ryun made his move. He inched up to Liquori's right shoulder, hung there for a moment (see cover) and then fell back half a step. "There was nothing there," Ryun said. "I was dead. Right then I knew that whoever stood up at the finish line would win."
May 23, 1971
"Lord, where's the finish line?" Liquori was thinking. He thought he saw it 20 yards ahead, but when he arrived at that point there were still 10 more yards to be run.
"Right there," he said, "I was worried. But I reached down and found just enough to throw myself at the tape. I'm afraid I had a funny expression on my face. It was just incredible. But I didn't want to seem too happy. Then, I thought, that's not me. And I got happy."
Both ran the last quarter in 54.6 and, somehow, both were clocked in 3:54.6, although Ryun was a step behind. It was the fastest mile in the world since 1968. It was the fastest mile ever run in the East. It was the fastest mile Liquori had ever run—by 2.6 seconds. Most remarkable, however, was that Liquori was able to hold off Ryun's challenge since, on paper, Ryun is much faster; for example, his personal best for a quarter-mile relay leg is 46.9, compared to Liquori's 49 flat.
After the finish Charlie Greene, the sprinter, turned to Lee Evans, the 440 ace, and shook his head. "Do you realize they sprinted the last 600 yards?" he said. "Six hundred yards. It's unbelievable."
"They must have some kind of guts," was what Evans said.
"Guts?" Liquori said. "What it was was just one long grind." Then he grinned. "I think I'm still waiting for Jim to blow past me. The whole last lap I kept thinking of all the typical places where people make their move. Like going into the backstretch or coming off the final turn. I just kept thinking, when he comes, be ready, be ready. Ready? I was dead."
"I knew he was," Ryun said. "But when I went to pass him, I found I was dead, too. He ran a great race."
"Don't think that makes me confident," Liquori said. "I didn't have that much going in and I don't have much now. I only won by a yard, and so many things can happen to change that yard. It could be different next week."
Then Liquori ran his victory lap, kicked at a carton, caught a spike and fell. He came up laughing. "I do that all the time in practice," he said.
After what he and Ryun had been put through in the last two weeks, nothing could faze him. For them the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. International Freedom Games' Dream Mile at Franklin Field had turned into a nightmare marathon of endless phone calls, taped interviews and picture-taking sessions. When the press roared into action the Dream Mile was suddenly the Super Mile, an event, one reporter informed his readers, of no less consequence than Frazier vs. Ali or Namath vs. Baltimore. Others viewed it as a rematch of David and Goliath, with perhaps just a dash of the Titanic once more steaming toward the iceberg. Ah, nuts, said those in the know: Ryun and Liquori.
"Super Mile?" said Ryun the day before the race. "Gee, just once I'd like to see them call it The Mile for a change. I think it's great that there's so much interest in the sport, but I think a lot of people are trying to see a lot of things in this race that aren't there."
For one, it was suggested that Ryun was seeking revenge for his two losses to Liquori in 1969. "Nonsense," said Ryun. "Marty is a great athlete and I respect him as a miler. But for me this is merely another race in a series that will help me make a decision about Munich. If Marty feels that this race is the pinnacle of his career, then I feel sorry for him. Until now my comeback, if you can call it that, has been fun. But now this, all the pressures of the publicity...."
For Liquori it was neither the pinnacle of his career nor much fun. The pressures overwhelmed him. "I don't know why," he said. "It's no good. It's weird. I'm worried about shooting a game of pool." Tuesday night he even considered going to a movie with his buddies, something he hasn't done in four years at Villanova.
On Wednesday afternoon Liquori met Patsy Smithwick, a senior at nearby Rosemont College and a close friend of his fiancée, Carol Jones. "In the four years I've known him," Patsy said later, "I'd never seen him like that. You know how measured and calculated his actions, his words are. Well, he was sort of jumpy. I asked him what was wrong. He said he didn't know. Then I started talking, just chattering about nothing. After about 15 minutes he said, 'You know, it worked. I haven't thought about the race for 15 whole minutes.' "
Meanwhile, in Eugene, Ore. Ryun was trying to live normally but was having small success. "Every time I turned around, there was either a phone call or a writer at the door," he said. "One national TV crew even called and said it just happened to be in the neighborhood and would I mind if they dropped by. 'In the neighborhood'? In Eugene?
"As a child I can remember wanting to participate in something spectacular. I didn't want to be a hero. I just wanted to be on the inside to see what was happening. Well, now I'm involved in something that's supposed to be spectacular, and I'm wondering what the athletes involved in all those other spectaculars must have been thinking."
A staff photographer for the Bohemian Lumber Co., Ryun worked the first three days of the week, then he, his wife Anne and their baby, Heather, fled to San Francisco. Thursday morning they flew to Cleveland and spent two days with Anne's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Monroe Snider. "Jim just relaxed and ate strawberry shortcake," said Betty Snider.
"I thought about the race on Wednesday, and then forgot about it," Ryun said. "You have to. And I kept the same training routine I've used all year. Three weeks of hard training and then a week of rest before a race."
By resting he means he may run 10 or 15 miles a day, but at a leisurely pace. Ryun's mile against Liquori was only his sixth race of the year. It would be Liquori's 28th race, including relays, and he was worried that such a heavy schedule may have taken too much out of him.
"In a way I think this is a race where I have nothing to win and everything to lose," said Liquori. "I mean if I win, people will say it was because Ryun isn't in top shape yet. If I lose they'll say, well, we told you if Ryun had been around, Liquori would never have won all those races he did.
"It's hard to recognize but, see, Jim became a hero for many people, and when I came up and started chipping away at the monument, I became somewhat of a villain. It's something I couldn't help, but people wanted to hang onto their old favorite rather than tie their emotions to a flashy new kid from the East. In the end people kept trying to shoot me down because I beat Jim rather than give me encouragement. What they don't understand is that I never said I was better than he is. I think if we ran 10 races, neither of us would win them all."
By Friday, Liquori had begun to relax. Carol was due that night. He was even able to joke about Sunday's race. "It's funny," he said, "but I'm finally getting back into my normal routine for a race—you know, worrying about Carol getting down here. It's been two years since I've seen Jim and only three weeks since I've seen Carol and, no offense to Jim—I mean, he's good-looking and a nice guy and all—but I'm looking forward more to seeing Carol than Jim.
"I know one thing: He can be beaten. I have to keep remembering that. I have to fight getting into the same rut everyone was in two years ago—you know, how no one could touch Ryun. I keep getting flashbacks like that, and people keep talking about how he's going to beat me. He might. I respect him a lot. But that doesn't mean I fear him. People always built up big races between him and whomever, and he always blew them off the track. But his reputation really doesn't mean anything to me now. If he's better, he's better. But I've felt him on my shoulder and I've felt him drop off, so probably better than anyone, I know he can be beat."
By the eve of the race Liquori was so relaxed he took Carol out for a steak sandwich and a pepperoni pizza. Ryun ate an uninterrupted dinner with his family at the Old Original Bookbinder's. He wanted to order lobster but decided a steak would be more fitting. Then he went back to his hotel for a conference with Bob Timmons, his former coach at Kansas, who still sets up his training program. "It was a nice evening," Ryun said before disappearing into an elevator. "I hope tomorrow is just as nice."
It wasn't. Sunday came in gray, wet and cold, and for Ryun there also was defeat. "But it's no big deal," he said. "I'm real pleased with my time. It's early yet. Now, if Marty had won in something like four minutes, then I'd be really disgusted with myself."
In his moment of triumph Liquori waxed philosophic. "Have you read Brave New World?" he asked. "Everyone is happy, but I don't think they could know what real happiness was because they never did without. They never knew the relief of crossing a finish line and knowing you've realized the fruits of your labor. That's happiness. But they were happy all the time. They couldn't define anything outside it. For them there was no satisfaction because there's no satisfaction without a struggle first and deprivation. When I won today, after all the work I've done—that's happiness. And that's reality."