They Showed The Way In Norway

Or, ah, they didn't go slow in Oslo, Steve Scott, Mary Decker Tabb and Alberto Salazar establishing American records
July 04, 1982

For eight days, Alberto Salazar had been holed up on a remote farm in Vikersund, Norway (pop. 1,292), thinking only of the 10,000-meter race he would run at last Saturday's Bislett Games in Oslo. "This will be my biggest 10 of the year—by far," he said on Friday. "I wanted no distractions." Salazar knew he was on the edge of world-record fitness: Two quick 5,000-meter races in May and June had told him that. And so to hold his sharpness, he had arranged to stay on the farm of the Norwegian national distance coach, Johann Kaggestad, in Vikersund, an hour west of Oslo. There, distracted only by the Kaggestads' three kids and their pet chicken, he had relaxed, taking light runs through the forest and occasionally chugging around the farm on an old tractor. "It was just perfect," he would say later. "So quiet and uneventful." That serenity, however, was to be short-lived.

Hardly had Salazar reached the Bislett Stadium starting line Saturday night when he heard Meet Director Arne Haukvik speaking in Norwegian over the PA. system. Suddenly, from the crowd of 7,032 came a storm of shrill, derisive whistles. Then Haukvik spoke in English, saying, "The International Amateur Athletic Federation has requested that we not allow any Kenyan athletes to participate in this meet...." Salazar himself felt like whistling. He was about to lose the two runners he needed most in his race: Peter Koech, the rabbit, whose job it was to pull Salazar through 5,000 meters in 13:38, and Henry Rono, the 10,000 world-record holder (27:22.4), who would push Salazar to the very finish.

"Go back about 20 yards and pretend you're not going to run," Salazar told Rono. "Then, right before the gun, sprint up and jump in with us." Rono just smiled. He had no intention of withdrawing from the race. Neither did Koech. They both stood patiently at the starting line as meet officials verbally threatened them. "What could we do?" said one official later. "This is Norway. You cannot manhandle someone. You cannot punch him out." The whistles, clearly in sympathy with Rono and Koech, grew louder, even while a few of the runners began staring at the Kenyans, annoyed by the delay they were causing. Rono and Koech didn't budge.

The IAAF order had come at the request of the Kenya Amateur Athletic Association, which wanted all its best athletes competing on this day at a meet among the U.S., West Germany and Africa in Durham, N.C. Said U.S. miler Steve Scott, who later in the evening would himself create a stir, "It's saddening. It's ridiculous. It shouldn't be happening. Let the runners run." And, indeed, after several more minutes of waiting, the full complement of runners was sent off by the starter's pistol.

It took two laps for all 27 competitors to jostle into line, and after they had, there was Salazar safely tucked in behind Koech in second place. Perfect position for a record. The weather was ideal, too—a temperature of 55°, with a whisper of breeze—as was the site. Over the years 40 world records had been tied or broken on the worn, patched Tartan surface of the Bislett track. Now, on every lap, rhythmic clapping exhorted the runners toward record No. 41.

Even though Koech slowed and dropped back several laps too early, Salazar, now in the lead, passed the 5,000-meter mark right on schedule, at 13:38. However, 35-year-old Carlos Lopes of Portugal, the 1976 Olympic silver medalist in the 10,000, was hanging on his outside shoulder, and Rono, who earlier had been as far back as ninth, had moved up to fifth, only 10 meters behind Salazar. By 6,000 meters Rono was on Lopes' shoulder in third, and as the race neared the 7,000 mark, he went into the lead.

Salazar quickly regained first place, but despite surges of his own he was unable to shake off Lopes, Rono and two other pursuers, Alex Hagelsteens of Belgium and Julian Goater of Great Britain. As the five battled on the turns, young fans reached over and pounded on the sheet-metal advertising signs that lined the trackside wall, creating the effect of crashing cymbals, almost thunder.

The final lap was a sprint. The 30-year-old Rono, who had beaten Salazar 27:29.90 to 27:30.00 in a 10,000 in Eugene, Ore. in April, blew past him again on the first turn, followed by the short, wiry Lopes. Salazar fought back. "It wasn't that I didn't sprint fast enough," he would say later. "I just didn't sprint soon enough." Salazar caught and passed Rono entering the final turn, but by then Lopes had 10 meters on both of them. Salazar closed that gap only slightly before crossing the finish line in second.

"Verdensrekord?" spectators asked each other, but Lopes' 27:24.39 clocking (the second-best ever) had missed Rono's world mark by 1.99 seconds. "Amerikanskrekord" mumbled some other fans. Indeed, Salazar's 27:25.61 had lowered Craig Virgin's U.S. 10,000 mark, set in 1980, by 3.55 seconds. Salazar, completely drained by his effort, sat with his head between his knees for five minutes. "I beat Rono" he finally said, smiling weakly. Rono had by then vanished, having received no official time or placing.

Both Norwegian meet officials and Norwegian women, meanwhile, were becoming a bane to Mary Decker Tabb. She had wanted to run against Grete Waitz in the 5,000 at Bislett, but Waitz allegedly had told Haukvik that if he let the American world-record holder into the 5,000, then she, Waitz, who two years ago received more votes than even 79-year-old King Olav in a Norwegian popularity poll, would pull out of the meet. Thus, Decker Tabb had been offered only a spot in the women's mile. "Poor sportsmanship, that's what I call it," she said before the meet. "Waitz is afraid I'll out-kick her and set a world record." Decker Tabb wasn't disappointed when Waitz won the 5,000 in 15:08.80—more than half a second off Decker Tabb's month-old mark. "Mary Decker Tabb is much faster than I," admitted Waitz. "She will someday run in the 14:50s. I am not a good competitor for her."

A worse competitor for Decker Tabb was Norwegian quarter-miler Marit Eriksen, the rabbit for the women's mile, who turned the first lap in an absurdly fast 61 seconds. "No! Slow down!" yelled Ron Tabb, Mary's husband, from the edge of the track. Decker Tabb slowed down plenty when she went into oxygen debt on the ensuing lap. Her next quarters took nearly 70 seconds each. Still, going into the bell lap she led everyone else by, as usual, a furlong or so.

Into the first turn, Decker Tabb was greeted by vigorous sign pounding. "It sounded like they still thought I could break the world record," she said later. Coming into the home stretch, she caught sight of a digital timer just past the finish line, and she sprinted toward it. "I just kept watching the click, click, click," she said. Her time was 4:21.46.

Decker Tabb had broken her own U.S. record of 4:21.68 and nearly reached the world mark of 4:20.89 held by Lyudmila Veselkova of the Soviet Union. She has now set U.S. or world records six times this year. "Well, now at least we know she can run a good last lap," said Ron, shaking his head.

"Don't look at me like that," said Mary when she got to her husband. "Ron, it wasn't my fault she went out so fast...."

"How many times did I warn you?"

After several minutes talking with Waitz—no hard feelings, Grete—Decker Tabb glanced over at the track and poked her husband in the ribs. "Look how fast they're going," she said.

The fourth annual Dream Mile was under way, and rabbits Bob Benn of Great Britain and Pat Scammel of the U.S. were leading a swarm of 15 runners through a blistering first lap. This race, too, had been delayed by a Kenyan presence: Mike Boit had even had his number removed by a muscle-headed official. As if inspired—or incensed—by that, Boit was running a strong third, followed by Sydney Maree. They passed the quarter-mile mark in :55.6 and the half in 1:52.4, still in mob formation. And they were on American-record, perhaps world-record, pace.

Scott, however, was stuck in the middle of what was a dangerously rough pack. When Ireland's Ray Flynn was shoved on the third turn of the third lap, his left foot kicked up and slashed into Scott's left thigh. "I was lucky to keep my balance at all," said Flynn. "It was bumpy out there," said Scott, whose American record of 3:49.68 was being challenged. "Every time I tried to move up, someone would cut me off."

Still, by the end of three laps, Scott was right on Maree's tail at the front of the race. As they came through three-quarters in a swift 2:53.3, it was clear that more than just victory would be at stake on the final lap.

Maree, a native of South Africa now close enough to full U.S. citizenship to qualify to hold an American record, maintained his lead down the back-stretch and into the last turn. "At 150 meters I thought I had it," he would say. "Then I saw his shadow coming up." Scott came wide off the final turn and charged straight down the belly of the track. Seventy meters from the finish, he edged past Maree. "But I couldn't move away from Sydney," said Scott. "I could see his shadow."

Scott had three yards on Maree at the finish. As Decker Tabb had done earlier, Scott watched the digital timer during his final sprint. "When I saw it hit 3:47, I knew I'd done it," he said. What he'd done was hit the tape in 3:48.53 and improved his American record. Only Sebastian Coe (3:47.33) and Steve Ovett (3:48.40), both of Great Britain, have ever run faster. And the runners behind Scott also had sensational times: Maree, 3:48.85; David Moorcroft of Great Britain, 3:49.34; New Zealand's John Walker, 3:49.50; Flynn, 3:50.54. Boit? No time, no place. In all, four of history's 13 fastest miles had been run.

The Oslo mile—in fact, the whole meet—had also cast a different light on the upcoming three-race series (3,000 meters, 800 meters and mile) between Coe and Ovett scheduled to begin with a 3,000 in London on July 17. Coe, the world-record holder at 800 and 1,000 meters as well as the mile, withdrew from Bislett because of sore shins, while Ovett, in finishing second to Suleiman Nyambui in the 3,000, showed the effects of the torn thigh muscle he suffered in a training-run fall last December. With Scott, Maree and others entered in the so-called Covett races, the two Britons may soon encounter further pain, that of losing.

"You always hear how Coe-Ovett is something to talk about," said Scott after his victory. "Pretty soon I think Scott-Maree is going to be something to talk about, too." In fact, like much of the Bislett meet, it already is.

PHOTOFinishing ahead of Maree, Scott saw 3:48.53—a U.S. mile record—flash on the timer. PHOTODecker Tabb also set a U.S. mile mark. PHOTOSalazar (left) was second to Lopes, but set a U.S. record in the 10,000. TWO PHOTOSFor thinking it finer not to be in Carolina, Rono was hassled by officials, and Boit had his number removed before the mile.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)