The streams oftalent and preparation and resolve that would converge in Oslo at twilight onJuly 17, 1979, arose in improbable springs located across the world. One beganin a desert. In 1978 the Arab emirate of Dubai, population 207,000, which restson a sheik's ransom of oil at the south end of the Persian Gulf, abandoned theidea of hosting a major international track meet in its extreme climate,instead, it donated $400,000 to the International Amateur Athletic Federationto use for coaching clinics. In return the IAAF agreed to stage eightworld-class "Golden" events in Dubai's name in selected meets over thenext three years.
The first was ahurriedly arranged mile in Tokyo in September 1978. England's Steve Ovett won atactical race with a 300-meter kick in 3:55.5. Steve Scott of the U.S., by thenexhausted from a year of almost uninterrupted racing, finished fourth in4:01.1. It would not be too strong to say that Scott's first thoughts after therace were of revenge. "The IAAF said then that there would be another milein July, in Oslo," says Scott. "I wanted Ovett again, when I was readyfor him. I knew that he only races a few places each year. I figured how couldhe not show up for this race next season, to defend his title?"
So Scott sat downwith Len Miller, his coach at the University of California at Irvine, fromwhich Scott had just graduated, and planned a training and racing schedule thatwould have him at a peak in mid-July. Now he would not have to run one or tworaces every weekend, as a member of a collegiate track team must. It would bethe year before the Olympics. "A year to run with the idea of finding outwhat you can do," said Scott.
In New Zealandthat winter, John Walker knew what he could do—or, at least, what he had oncedone. He was the 1976 Olympic 1,500-meter champion and the world-record holderin the mile, having run his historic 3:49.4 in 1975, in G‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áteborg, Sweden.Walker's fear now was that never again would he approach that time.
March 13, 1980
Thickly muscled at6'1" and 170 pounds, Walker had seemed to usher in a new age of miling.When he won in Montreal and Cuba's 6'2", 185-pound stallion, AlbertoJuantorena, ran the 800 meters there in a world-record 1:43.5, the day of thewhippet-slender middle-distance runner, like the U.S's Rick wohlhuter, wasjudged over. But after the Olympics, Walker's stiff, heavily fibrosed legmuscles began to betray him. For years he had run with inflamed Achillestendons, but now he experienced a gripping pain in his calves whenever he ranlonger than 30 minutes. The membrane surrounding his calf muscles was growingmore rigid, keeping the muscles, which became engorged with blood under thestrain of running, from expanding within their sheaths. Surgery was onlypartially successful.
Rather thanconsider retirement, walker changed his training. If he could only run half anhour at a time, then he would run one hell of a half hour. And he would do itas many as three times a day. In January 1979, after a few months of this work,he decided to test himself at the Muhammad Ali indoor meet in Long Beach,Calif. After following Paul Cummings' aggressive pace, Walker burst past him onthe last lap and set a world indoor 1,500-meter record of 3:37.4. He wasenormously relieved, because he had almost unconsciously come to embody thewishes of his 3,000,000 running-mad countrymen. "There are still pressuresfrom holding the world record," he said. "The mile has become atraditional event, and everyone has some vague knowledge of it. If you brokefour minutes you were a pretty good runner, but once I got under 3:50, peoplebegan oohing and gurgling."
Walker, oncethought by some rivals to be amusingly transparent in his self-regard, wasmaturing. "Now that I have the gold medal and the world record, I think Iget a richer kind of enjoyment from my running," he said. "In 1975 and1976 I was striving for perfection. Now I go out to race still with a will towin, but not with the inclination to set records." When an invitation torun a Golden Mile in Oslo was forwarded to Walker, he was quick to accept. 'Theinstincts are the same," he said. "I'll take on anyone,anywhere."
In the winter of1979 Eamonn Coghlan, the pride of Ireland, proved himself the finest indoormiler the world had ever seen. In San Diego in February he shattered the indoorrecord by 2.3 seconds by running 3:52.6. Scott was second in 3:54.1 andWisconsin's Steve Lacy third in 3:54.7. Yet during the outdoor season Coghlanplanned to explore a new distance, 5,000 meters. "It will serve twopurposes," he said, "to improve my stamina and to discover how I'llfare against the good 5,000 guys. That may even turn out to be my bestevent." Coghlan and his coach, Gerry Farnan, picked as a goal the winningof the British 5,000-meter championship, to be held in London on July 14, 1979,just three days before the Oslo mile. Thus, when contacted about running thelatter, he held off.
As the yearadvanced, the IAAF assigned the organization of the Oslo race to promoters AndyNorman of England and Arne Haukvik of Norway. The international body orderedall its national affiliates to make their best milers available should they beinvited. West Germany pledged Dr. Thomas Wessinghage, the European recordholder at 3:52.5. Japan would send Takashi Ishii, a high school teacher with abest of 3:59.7. Australia selected ken Hall, who had pushed Walker to his3:49.4 with a 3:55.2.
As Scott hadhoped, Ovett accepted his invitation, six weeks before the race. Ovett had wonthe 1977 world Cup 1,500 in 3:34.5 with a prodigious sprint over the last 300meters and had been unbeaten at a mile or 1,500 since. He was the 1978 Europeanchampion in the 1,500, having defeated Coghlan and Wessinghage. Ovett seemed tohave the widest range of running abilities ever combined in one man. He hadsprinted 200 meters in 21.7 and run a half-marathon in 1:05.38. That he had notset a world record in the mile he explained by saying that he races againstmen, not clocks. If a record were necessary to win, he was capable of one, ashe had shown in 1978 in London, when he had set a world two-mile record of8:13.5 in beating Henry Rono of kenya.
A rigorouslyprivate man, Ovett had on occasion spoken with a prickly candor. "TheBritish athletics press has this lazy, imperious attitude toward theathletes," he said early in 1979. "We run our guts out on the track,and if we've pleased them enough, we get a demand to attend the press boxinterview room, like a royal command. But if we don't say what they expect usto say, or we offend their sense of patriotism, we get branded asarrogant." By 1979 Ovett had long been so branded. Unmoved, he carried onwith three workouts a day over the rolling Sussex downs near his Brightonhome.
Graham Williamsonof Glasgow, Scotland, only 19, had a best of 3:55.8 and had been third in thefirst Golden Mile the year before. For seven months Williamson had had atentative invitation to Oslo, but there had been no confirmation, it appearedthat with Ovett and Walker and Scott in the race, the promoters were waitinguntil the last moment to complete the field. They wanted the fittest runnersand, because NBC-TV had bought rights to the race, a few Americans. "Allyear I'd been planning to make this race the peak of my year," saysWilliamson. "I arranged three weeks of training at altitude in Colorado asfinal preparation." He returned to Scotland 12 days before the race."My training was going badly when I got home. One afternoon a week beforethe race I was out doing four miles, and everything clicked." That was theday that Norman called. "You're in," he said.
Others keptwaiting were John Robson of Scotland and Dave Moorcroft of England, theCommonwealth Games' 1,500-meter champion. Robson wasn't invited until afterhe'd finished third in the British 1,500 on July 14-three days before theGolden Mile. Moorcroft, who was fighting a hamstring injury and a bad cold,didn't know whether to go to Oslo or not once he had been made welcome. "Iwasn't in the correct frame of mind," he says. "I was feeling sorry formyself. Finally I decided to go out to the race with my wife. But even then Iwas not sure about running."
Steve Lacy andCraig Masback were two Americans who suspected they had been invited to satisfyNBC. Masback had just completed two years at Trinity College, Oxford, where hewas a doctoral candidate in political science, in those years, training no morethan 40 miles per week, he had cut his mile time from 4:01.8 to 3:54.7. Despitea furious spate of six races in eight days in early July, Masback was stillhungry and finagled an invitation a week before the race.
In a mile amongequals, the pacesetter rarely wins. Meet promoters, intent on encouraging fasttimes, make sure to line up a journeyman rabbit for the first half-mile. TheOslo promoters, though, were permitted no mere journeymen, only top classmilers. So they went looking for a runner to sacrifice. "Robson and I andWilliamson were almost told that if we didn't want to be the rabbit we couldn'trun," says Masback. Offended, they made no promises.
In the BislettGames in Oslo on July 5, Coghlan won the 3,000 meters in 7:39.1 and that night,after speaking with Haukvik, finally agreed to run the Golden Mile, 12 dayslater, in the same meet, England's Sebastian Coe destroyed Juantorena's800-meter world record by a full second with a time of 1:42.4. It was the 32ndworld record set on the Bislett Stadium track.
Understanding lessabout the 800 meters than the mile, the popular press found the 22-year-old Coeremarkable mostly for his dark-haired good looks and for having a sister,Miranda, who was a dancer in the Lido show in Las Vegas. But followers ofmiddle-distance running saw his 1:42.4 as a quantum leap forward; he hadlowered the 800-meter record by more than anyone since Peter Snell of NewZealand, who cut 1.4 seconds from it with his 1:44.3 in 1962. Walker, whomCoghlan had outkicked in the 3,000, was transfixed as he watched the 800."Coe looked like he could run under 1:40," he said. "He never tiedup at all. I think he could run a 3:51 mile right now." Privately, Walkersuspected Coe could do far faster.
Coe had just takenhis degree in economics from Loughborough University and was trained by hisfather, Peter Coe, the production director for the cutlery firm of GeorgeButler, Ltd. of Sheffield. After the 800-meter record, Coe traveled north toTingvoll, Norway, to honor a commitment he had made earlier, before everyEnglish radio and newspaperman could try to talk to him. "Mind you, it wasthe best thing I could have done, because I missed all the press appeals,"he says. "It was a tiny place, inside a fjord. They had a new surface onthe track, all silvery, something from the mines there. And the track itselfwas undersized. In the 800 I remember being told, 'When you get to the red hutat the corner there, it's two laps more.' " In a spray of soft silvercinders, Coe won in 1:54.8 and then went home to receive his invitation to theGolden Mile.
Coe and his fatherhad considered him primarily an 800-meter runner since he was 18. His traininghad been designed with the aid of Loughborough physiologist George Gandy togive him the springiness and speed of a quarter-miler, but about once a year heran a mile and showed no fear of even longer distances. He had beaten Coghlanin a four-mile road race, and British Olympic 10,000-meter bronze medalistBrendan Foster went so far as to say 5,000 meters might eventually be Coe'sbest event.
That he could lastout a hard mile Coe proved to himself with an astounding workout a week beforethe Golden Mile. On a carefully measured stretch of the Rivelin Valley Roadwest of Sheffield, he did six 800-meter runs with 90-second recovery jogsbetween them. "I don't remember all the times," he says, "but theywere 1:52s and 1:53s. The last one was 1:49.5."
On July 13 and 14,most of the principals in the Oslo mile gathered at the British championshipsat Crystal Palace track, London. Coghlan reached his season's goal in style bywinning the 5,000 meters with a personal record of 13:23.6. He outkicked suchworthies as Mike McLeod of England, Rod Dixon of New Zealand and world-recordholder Henry Rono. Coe dropped down to the 400 meters and won his heat in46.95; the next day he placed second in the final behind the Sudan's KasheefHassan in 46.87. "I wasn't too pleased with that," he says. Later inthe year he would run a 45.5 in anchoring Britain's European Cup1,600-meter-relay team.
Steve Scottoutlasted John Walker in the 800 meters, 1:47.4 to 1:47.6. Ovett toyed with the1,500-meter field, sprinting from last to first around the final turn andcoasting in ahead of Williamson and Robson. Afterward, during an interview withthe BBC, Ovett lauded the strength of British miling, asking, "Why shouldwe have to go over to Norway? The best milers in the world are British. Let therest of the world come to us."
"After that hefelt he couldn't go to Oslo," says Williamson. Ovett, out on a limb, cut itoff by saying he had nothing to prove, that whoever won in Norway would have"a hollow victory" without having beaten him. The rest of the milers,in the main combative men beneath composed exteriors, didn't take such wordslightly. As they went to Oslo, they began to conceive of the shape the GoldenMile might take, and there grew among them the unspoken conviction that itwould be fast.
The athletes'lodgings in Oslo were to the north of the city, in the Panorama Sommerhotell,beside tranquil Sognsvatn Lake. The 1972 U.S. Olympic track team trained there.The buildings of glass and birch are spare and functional. Sawdust and sandtrails run across a forest floor replete with huckleberry bushes and graniteoutcroppings and are used by runners and hikers in summer, cross-country skiersin winter. The city of Oslo spends $30 million a year in support of suchfacilities as well as over 400 sports clubs.
"The wholeatmosphere of the place, the paths around the lake, the quaint cable car youtook down to the town, the way you could sit on the wharf by the fjord andshell shrimp for lunch was relaxing and just distracting enough to beperfect," says Scott, who had run his best 1,500 meters (3:36.0) in Oslo in1978. "It was fun to bring Kim [Votaw, now his wife] and be able to showher everything."
Scott's only worrywas over his efforts to join the U.S. team in Moscow the following week for theSpartakiade Games. Despite repeatedly cabling the AAU office in Indianapolisand visiting the Soviet Embassy daily, he had yet to receive a visa.
Coe, who had flownwith his father to Oslo from Manchester on July 15, ran through Frogner Park,where he was astounded by the size, number and compelling, unsparing humanityof the Gustav vigeiand sculptures. Later, cruising past the Norwegian girlssunbathing topless on Sognsvatn's shore, he slowed, "out of deference."At the hotel he was introduced to many of his opponents for the first time."They struck me as one of the friendliest collections of people I've met,given what was to come later," he says.
One runner Coeknew and respected was Dixon of New Zealand. They discussed Ovett. "I don'tknow him at all well," said Coe. "He certainly seems to talk himselfinto a corner."
"He ratherreminds me of the lift operator," said Dixon. "After he's reached thetop, he'll have to come down, and then he'll meet all the people he was rude toon the way up."
There was a gardenparty for athletes and press the evening before the race at Haukvik's home onone of the wooded slopes of suburban Oslo. Over ham and strawberries, Haukvikbadgered all the lesser names in turn. "He said, in a confiding manner,that this was a race they just couldn't put a rabbit in because the invitationswere so scarce," says Masback. "He said, 'So the race is going to be afailure unless you lead.' I reacted violently, and he went to talk to someoneelse."
Had Haukvik knownthe thinking of Scott and Wessinghage, he might have relaxed and enjoyed theham. "Thomas and I went off under the apple trees and made a plan,"says Scott. "More than wanting to win at any cost, we wanted to run a fasttime. We assumed they'd get someone to lead for two laps. Then I would take thethird lap and push it hard, and Thomas would take it going into the lastquarter, and we'd both sprint with 200 to go." Scott was so serious that hetold Wessinghage, "If there is no early rabbit, I'm going to take the paceout from the start."
The British press,which had been caught flat-footed by Coe's 800-meter record, was out in force."Why are you here, if it's not a special occasion?" a reporter askedPeter Coe at Haukvik's party, because Sebastian's father had not attended theearlier race.
"He can run800s perfectly well on his own," said Peter, "because he's an 800-meterrunner. But he's not yet a miler. We've come to learn."
To one side,Masback, in perfect earnest, was predicting a fast race, one that would haveeight men under 3:53. An NBC camera crew thought this very funny. Peter Coedidn't crack a smile. "I like that Masback," he said. "Anintelligent man."
Out on the lawn afactory representative with a trunk full of lovely Norwegian sweaters wasoffering them to the athletes at half price. "I experienced someanxiety," says Masback. "Should I buy one when I knew they gave them asprizes for the first six? Finally Haukvik said if you do a personal record,they're free. So I said at least I'll get that and went away to eat all thestrawberries I could."
Back in the hotel,Williamson, who had also resisted Haukvik's entreaties to set the pace, satdown with his roommate, Brendan Foster, a magically astute judge of runners.Before them they had a list of the field. "We got it down to Coe and Scott,really," Williamson says. "For a year I had felt that Coe was capableof a big mile. Coghlan had to be tired from his 5,000. Walker was not at hisbest, and Wessinghage seldom comes off well in a big race. I never expectedanything of Masback."
The 19-year-oldWilliamson looked up at the 31-year-old Foster. "What do you think?" heasked.
"I'd bet youthird," said Foster.
The morning wascool and calm with a moist fog over the fjord. One by one the milers rose andstretched and headed out for their easy morning runs. At the far end of thelake Coghlan met Coe, who turned and joined him. Both are men who save theirnervous energy for races, so it was not a strained occasion. "Justcommuning with nature," says Coghlan.
Lacy was communingwith himself. For five days he'd had strep throat and a temperature. Thismorning it was down to 99". "When I got up I felt runnable," hesays. "I managed to do a couple of miles without coughing and hacking. Iwas hoping that I'd experienced a miraculous recovery. I hadn't, but at least Ifigured I could run safely."
Australia's Hallpassed some time reading a book on English history. Ishii of Japan took a longwalk among the evergreens, feeling honored. "I knew I wasn't fast enough towin," he says, "but I was tremendously elated to be given this chanceto see how I measured up to the best men in the world." For Ishii, it waslike being dropped into an Olympic final, and his assessment of his opponentswas fascinating. "I believed Coe would not win because he was specializingin the 800," he says. "Coghlan is basically a long-distance racer withgreat staying power. He is not too strong a sprinter in the homestretch."Had Ishii asserted this to Walker, Wessinghage, Scott, Lacy, Robson, Moorcroftor Masback, all of whom had been cut down by Coghlan in the last hundred yardsof races, he would have caused a sensation. In fact, Coghlan's potent kick wasthe reason Peter Coe felt the pace would be swift. "Out of a dozenintelligent men there must be several who don't care to wait around and haveEamonn outsprint them," he said.
Scott and Lacytook the rattling wooden tram from the hotel to the city center and walkedagain to the Soviet Embassy, where Scott was told his visa still had not comein.
(Scott would nevermake it to Russia. But after the Golden Mile, Masback, staying with an aunt inParis, would pay his own insistent visits to the Soviet Embassy there. Herecalls, "Finally on the fourth day the guy said, 'Are you Edwin Moses?' Isaid no. 'Do you know Edwin Moses?' I said sure. 'O.K., Were is visa.' "Masback then placed second in the spartakiade 1,500.)
From the embassythey went to the SAS offices to have Scott's and Kim Votaw's tickets changed togo south. "There were long lines," says Scott. "We waited half anhour, then said screw it and went back to the hotel to have something toeat." Five hours before race time they looked at the menu and settled forspaghetti.
"They only hadfive things in the restaurant," says Masback. "Fish, hamburger, Wienerschnitzel, fried chicken and spaghetti. And there were some unclear but heatedpersonal problems among the kitchen staff. Our food was always served by sullenor tear-streaked waitresses."
Coe had relaxedfor an hour reading Mao's little red book of quotations, which he had broughtfrom Sheffield. "I found it very funny," he says. "The masses'inexhaustible lust for socialism." Then he and his father had been taken bya photographer to pose on the heights of the Holmenkollen ski jump. Theycooperated, climbing hundreds of feet up and down the structure, but feltslightly used. The photograph of Sebastian now in his album shows him standingwith a pair of skis and a certain wrinkled-nose discontent. The picture of hisfather shows ashen terror. "That must have added two seconds to whateveryou'll run," he said as they regained level ground.
At midday theylunched and laid the race plan. "We had a slight difference ofopinion," Sebastian says. "I thought there might be some stuffingaround." But his father assured him it would be fast all the way, and thusthe best tactic was not to lead but to get a good position and stay close tothe front. "There was no talk of a world record," says Peter. "Itwas to be run competitively. The aim was simply to win the race."
Sebastian'sconcern was for the third lap. "When you figure 57 seconds per quarter issix seconds slower than my 800-meter pace," he says, "it wasn't goingto feel too hard at first. But those stamina men were going to come on in thatthird quarter."
Walker had reachedOslo only the day before, having been delayed by leaving his passport inLondon. He and Williamson had a chat in the hotel lobby. Walker said he wasmaking no excuses, but his Achilles tendon problems had left him short ofracing fitness. He had a cold and was taking penicillin.
"I didn't feelhe should've been talking to me in such a way," says Williamson. "Whowas I, anyway? He certainly didn't seem the big, confident athlete Iknew."
The nearer therace, the more time dragged, "it was just an excruciatingly long day,"says Masback, "filled with waiting and vapid conversations. Finally we goton the bus to the stadium early, just to get moving. Walker was wry, unusuallyfunny, unusually relaxed."
Walker felt thebest he could possibly expect of himself was 3:53 or 3:54. He had watched Coe's800 record run and knew what he had seen. "Unlike what was written so muchin 1976," he says, "someone who is big and heavy like me is limited inwhat he can do, but a light-framed, speedy runner like Coe will not have muchtrouble carrying his speed over a mile."
Coe and Moorcroft,another Loughborough graduate, took a car to the track with Peter Coe andMiklos Nemeth, the Olympic javelin champion from Hungary. Also in the car wasBela Domoks, a Hungarian photographer who had defected to England in 1956.Domoks began talking to Nemeth about how Hungarian magazines never paid for hispictures. "Gradually Bela began lecturing him," says Coe. "Nemeth'sneck grew red as it got beyond a lecture. It wasn't the most relaxing way tocollect one's thoughts."
Once at Bislett,which is alongside the large and fragrant Frydenlund brewery near the citycenter, the does were taken onto the field and put up on the awards stand,where Peter presented a gold medal to his son for the 800-meter record. The16,173 fans filling the stands applauded. Coe, graceful in a tan sweat suit,waved in thanks, seemingly calm.
"How do yourun a world record?" asks Peter Coe. "You compress all your baser urgesinto one minute and 42 seconds of running, inside, the man is as ruthless asthey come."
The warmup area atBislett is odd, a little flat and dusty space inside the fence at the top of agrassy slope. Coe sat there for a while, keeping an eye on Foster's sweats ashe and Dixon dueled in the two-mile, Dixon winning in a fine 8:15.2. "Ijust soaked up the hum, the general excitement of the crowd," says Coe."Once I came down to the parking area behind the stand and was nabbed byCharlie Jones of NBC. He asked me about Miranda's legs. He has a thing abouther legs. I said, 'They're prettier than mine, but not as fast,' and escapedback to the warmup level."
Moorcroft went tothe side of the track during his warmup to watch Crete Waitz win the women's3,000 in 8:31.8, the second fastest ever. "The atmosphere in there waselectric," he says. "The track only has six lanes and the banking ofthe stands is so steep you feel the crowd is on top of you."
Coghlan went to alittle park three-quarters of a mile away to do his 40 minutes of jogging andstretching. Scott, who had sat with the pole vaulters, warmed up inside thestadium, doing increasingly rapid 100-meter strides down the backstretch.
Williamson ranslowly around the outside, trying to convince himself that the only reason hedidn't feel good was because he was wearing two sweat suits. "When I gotout on the track to do strides I felt better," he says. "I stared atCoe's father, wondering what he could be thinking about me." It was anatural thought, as the craggy senior Coe is known to seek the iron in arunner. "I want to see what the bastards are made of," he had said insending Sebastian out to drive the pace in the 1978 European Championship800.
Now, as he watchedhis son lace on his spikes, he was feeling what he had denied over strawberriesthe night before. "I knew something special was happening," he says."Normally we have little to say to one another right before a race. But Iwas caught up. I said, 'You know, you can win this.' "
"Yes, I know,Dad."
Then they were onthe track for introductions. Coghlan, all in green, was doing littletwinkle-toed accelerations. Scott got a last hug from Kim. Walker limpedslightly and looked glum. Masback and Moorcroft were apprehensive, weary of thelong television hype that required the milers to bound one by one to the top ofthe awards stand and wave. It seemed an unnecessary, almost insulting ceremonyin the midst of 16,000 spectators who could neither be more knowledgeable normore excited. Through it all, Coe appeared assured. "Normally I would havebeen perturbed," he says. "I hate indecision and delay before races.But I wasn't very nervous at all."
At last they wentto the line. As soon as all were still, the gun sounded. Coe, wearing hisBritish racing singlet and purple Loughborough shorts, bolted to the front atonce to avoid the inevitable pushing within a field of 13 aggressive men. As itwas, he still caught an elbow from Masback as the pack jammed together aroundthe first turn. Entering the backstretch, Lacy, running wide, went smoothlyahead. Knowing his weakened condition wouldn't let him be a contender, he haddecided to become the crucial element in a great mile, a respected man settinga hard, even pace. Coe was surprised. "I'd no idea he was going to dothat."
As Lacy moved tothe inside, Scott and Wessinghage followed him. Coe held fourth. Ishii andBjorge Rudd, Norway's entrant, fell behind and would not be factors. Of therest, two men's fates were already sealed. One was Masback. "My plan was togo out near the front and stay there," he says. "That plan lasted abouta hundred meters. I got out fine, but one by one everyone marched by and prettysoon I had a perfect view of the race."
The other wasCoghlan. "I was not cocky, but too cagey, too careful," he says. "Ithink I was last in the early running."
At the quartermile, Lacy was timed in 57 seconds flat. Scott was a yard behind, thinking herethe two of them were again, as so many times during the U.S. indoor season,"doing the work as usual." Wessinghage and Coe were by in about 57.8.Behind them the pack was dangerously tight, with seven men working forposition. "There was a lot of physical contact," says Moorcroft. "Inever got past fifth or sixth. It felt like I was running into a wall all thetime." Into the third turn, Coghlan and Walker were ninth and 10th,respectively. Coghlan knew he had to get up. "On the second lap when Ithought they would ease, they just kept going." He went wide down thebackstretch and passed several men, Put made up little on the leaders.
Lacy and Scott hit800 meters in 1:54.0, with Coe now third in 1:54.5. Lacy had Peen perfect, withtwo 57-second laps in a row. Now he stepped off the track, coughing, floodpounding in his head. Scott leaned hard into the turn, keeping the pressure on.Later, both Scott and Coe would give Lacy full credit for making a recordpossible. Scott also says, "He shouldn't have done it. For one thing, hewas sick. His throat infection lingered on and he couldn't train untilSeptember. But more than that, he'd Proken the indoor world record in February.He is too good a runner to rabbit."
Coe stayed withScott and daylight opened to the pack. They led by eight yards at 2½ laps, whenCoghlan finally took over third from Wessinghage. "I ran as if I had noexperience whatsoever," says Coghlan. "I ran three or four little raceswithin the larger one. I made a hell of an effort in the third lap to get tothird and once I got there I was exhausted."
Through the thirdlap, Scott willed himself not to slow. This was how he had destroyed the kickof Villanova's Don Paige in the AAU 1,500 in June. He did not know who wasbehind him. The crowd was so loud he could hear no footsteps. He had heard nolap times. He didn't care about them. He knew only to run as hard as a man canrun.
With 500 metersleft, Coe came to Scott's shoulder. Scott, recalling their plan, thought it wasWessinghage. When Coe passed him 30 yards before the three-quarter-mile point,Scott was encouraged, thinking the half-miler had moved too early.
The time at 1,200meters was 2:52.0. Walker, la-Poring out of the pack past the seemingly spentCoghlan, heard the split called to Coe and Scott. "Well, it's gone," hethought. "Coming around the turn I actually got into third place," hesays, "Put I was preoccupied with watching Coe. I was fascinated, if that'sthe word, knowing he was on his way to breaking my world record."
Coe moved steadilyaway from Scott. "I was filled with relief that I hadn't Peen chewed overby the pack in the third lap," he says. "From then on I was justrunning for the tape." Coe's stride never took on the appearance of beingwilled. His face showed no strain, only a wide-eyed absorption in his task. Hepassed 1,500 meters in 3:32.8, a European record. As he neared the tape helooked as if he could run another lap.
Behind Coe, Scottwas holding on. Behind Scott, things were happening down the backstretch.Williamson had found the race frustrating for its refusal to develop into afile of efficiently running men. "You could never settle in," he says."There were always things going on, people coming past. I really only tookstock of the race with 300 to go." He was in fourth. "With Scott andCoe out and away, I was aiming for third. I got by Walker. I cut in on him andhe pushed me in the Pack. Ahead, Scott didn't look that good. I began to thinkI might get second."
Masback enteredthe last backstretch in 10th place. "I'd run the whole way Pack there onthe inside with a feeling of resignation, Put I sensed we were movingquickly," he says. "I got outside into the express lane with 300 to go,hoping to pass two or three people before the turn." Masback passed four."As I went around Coghlan he turned his head and we exchanged glances. Isaw a despair in his eyes, as if he was saying, That should be me up there, andto make it worse, now you're passing me.' "
On the turn, justpast 1,500 meters, Masback loomed up behind Williamson, and his reaching strideaccidentally caught Williamson's left foot. Two spikes went into the rear ofthe Scotsman's red Puma and ripped it off his heel.
"One second Iwas sprinting at Scott, thinking, 'He's not too far away,' " saysWilliamson. "And the next, 'Christ, what can I do? What can I do?" Ikept looking down. I ran a few steps with the Pack of the shoe tucked under myfoot like a carpet slipper. Then I got it off. People began to go by me. Myrunning action was gone." Williamson would finish seventh in 3:53.2. Thatand his 1,500-meter time of 3:36.6 were European Junior records.
Coghlan wasseventh or eighth off the last turn, and still a proud man. He sprinted thelast 100 yards faster than anyone else and reached fourth at the finish in3:52.5, an Irish national record. Masback came in just ahead of him in 3:52.1.As they slowed, Coghlan drew up beside Masback and heard him gasp, "Sorry.You're the best."
Robson went fromseventh to fifth on the last turn, "in the straight I was floating,detached," he says. "I had lots left, and it seemed I was closing onCoghlan and Masback. Through the line Walker was right beside me." Robsonand Walker finished fifth and sixth in 3:52.8 and 3:52.9. At once walker turnedto Robson and said, "I've lost my record."
Later Coghlanwould say, "I'll always remember how walker took it. Sure, we all sayrecords are made to be broken, Put there was something more special about thatrecord. It was the first sub-3:50. It was a true landmark, and that night itwas forgotten. That's what he lost, and he accepted it instantly."
Scott was not atall inclined to be accepting. "It must be wrong," he raged, for histime on the electronic phototimer was 3:51.11, one one-hundredth of a secondslower than Jim Ryun's 12-year-old U.S. record. To make it worse, Scott hadeased several yards before the tape.
As had Coehimself. Yet he had floated across the line in 3:49.0, a world record. "Thelesson of the cold-en Mile," says Coe's father, "is one that the twofinest athletes ignored: Run through the tape."
Coe relaxedthrough it into pandemonium. "Everyone was shouting, of course, calling awild variety of times," he says. "My father was the first person I waswilling to listen to. He told me I'd done it."
Someone thrust aUnion Jack tied to a birch branch into Coe's hands, and he took a jubilantvictory lap with a train of photographers behind. "He looked like acombination Pied Piper and Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People," saysMasback.
Coe received agold trophy worth $13,000 from IAAF President Adrian Paulen ontelevision—during which time NBC's Charlie Jones held his cigarette at the hemof his blazer so it would not appear in the picture-then had it immediatelytaken back; it is not a "keeper."
By the time Coeand his father had satisfied the English press, the stadium was empty. Theywent in search of a ride to the athletes' reception. "I always thought whensomeone broke a world record the angels came down and bore you off to whereveryou wanted to go," says Scott. "But there was Coe, walking outconfused, just like the rest of us."
Eventually themilers reached the site of the dinner, an Oslo hotel. Coe went to shower insomeone's room. Masback stayed in the lobby to make a call home, "in thetime I sat there," he says, "Walker got three calls from New Zealandnewspapers. He said all the right things: Yes, I'm sorry it's gone, but it wasa great effort by coe. I'm only glad to have had a chance to be in therace....' All the right things, but with such an expression of anguish on hisface that I had to look away."
As Walkersuffered, Coe, damp from his shower, passed lightly by on his way to thereception room. As he entered, the meet's athletes rose in a standing ovation.For the first time what he had done began to sink in, and he was moved.
Runners will sayof a successful race, "You wake the next morning and it is gone." Itwas in recognition of the evanescence of victory that the ancient Olympic Gamesawarded winners only a perishable olive wreath. Yet the final measure of theGolden Mile consists of whatever its makers carried from it.
Wessinghage, whowas eighth in 3:53.2, recalls Coghlan's final kick. "A great gesture,"he says. "I wish I had done that." In August he would set the pace forOvett's attempt at Coe's record in London. Ovett would barely miss, with3:49.6. Wessinghage, remembering Coghlan, would hang on to run 3:50.6, thefourth-fastest mile ever.
Williamson flewback to Glasgow the next morning. He tried to tell himself he'd been lucky;Masback's spikes might easily have split his Achilles tendon. "But Icouldn't help thinking of what I might have done had I not been spiked," hesays. "I was so close." The flight had to hold for half an hour overGlasgow. "I kept punching the seat in front of me. I was so close."
Scott, Walker andMasback were back at war the next night, racing over 1,500 meters in Lausanne,Switzerland. "Walker had been discouraged that I had beaten him inOslo," says Masback. "He went wild to get me back in Lausanne. Which hedid, by the chest hairs." Both finished in 3:37.9, behind Scott's3:37.7.
Coe and his fatherflew home the morning after the race. "The house was under siege,"Sebastian says. "Cars everywhere, cameras, cables. The room was white withlight, and there was plastic sheeting over everything." As he walked in,the phone rang and he picked it up. A good Yorkshire accent from theHallamshire Harriers said, "Hey, if you don't get your forms in for theagricultural show race, you'll not be in."
"I'm home allright," said Coe.
That afternoon hewent for a relaxing run, up along the shore of the Howden Reservoir in theDerwent Valley. The land is part of the Peak National Park. Great oldrhododendrons and pines come down to a stone wall beside the road.
Coe let histhoughts run free. "I was just glad, blissfully glad to get away fromeverything," he says. "Right after a race the difficulty is to findyour sweatsuit and get your shoes changed and give some sort of gentle answerto excited, dumb questions, the most frequent being, 'How do you feel?' when Idon't know yet how I feel."
Now, gazing out atthe moors across the lake, he knew how he felt, and it wasn't historic. "Ihave other races to run," he thought. "It may be years yet, if ever,before I come to think of the Oslo mile as a landmark."
Then, turning forhome, a clearer idea came, one he surely would share with Walker. "Theserecords are only borrowed," he would say, "precious aspects of thesport, temporarily in one's keeping."