Eamonn Coghlan (3:50.6) and Steve Scott (3:51.8) are the two fastest indoor milers in history. They hadn't met indoors for two years, but last Friday, as the gun sounded to begin the mile at the Michelob Invitational track meet in San Diego's Sports Arena, just one look was all it took to make it clear that this race would produce no new record. Scott eyed Coghlan. Coghlan glanced at Scott. "And we kind of walked off the line," said Scott. Pacesetter Joe Fabris cleared out on his way to a first 440 of 58.5. Coghlan and Scott were last and next to last, respectively, at 60.0.
Todd Harbour of the Santa Monica Track Club was running second, followed by Dr. Thomas Wessinghage, the European 5,000-meter champion, Jay Woods of BYU, Scott and Coghlan. Passing the 880 mark in 1:58.2, the bearded Fabris had 30 yards on this remarkably timid field. "I tried not to entertain thoughts of running away with the race," Fabris said. "I knew they'd be coming back at me."
They weren't yet. Woods went to second. Behind him Scott ran carefully, keeping his attention fixed on his right flank, from where any Coghlan move would have to come. For his part, Coghlan seemed in a kinesthetic trance, absorbed in the rhythm of Scott's heels.
Woods led them past Fabris at the three-quarters in 2:59.0. Scott, his eagerness showing, ran too close to Woods and caught a spike in his right shin. He didn't feel it. He didn't hear the split called. He didn't care about it. This was not a race for fast times. This was for honor.
February 28, 1983
Two years ago Scott had lost in San Diego to Coghlan's world-record performance, but had gone on in the ensuing outdoor seasons to become the most accomplished U.S. miler since Jim Ryun. His American-record 3:47.69 last summer in Oslo was a third of a second off Sebastian Coe's world standard. His career has been a ratchet; now 26, he has improved his best mile or 1,500 every year since high school. In 1982 he won 16 of 17 races against the best in the world. Where once he had been the brave front-runner who was cut down by the kick of a Coe or Ovett or Coghlan, now he was a complete racer, with a killing finish of his own. He would not let Coghlan drop him back to the old days without a violent struggle.
Coghlan's last two years, unlike Scott's, had been filled with repeated, devastating loss. His college coach, Jumbo Elliott of Villanova, died of a heart attack in 1981, a month after Coghlan set his record. "Jumbo not only made sure I had a good education, he let me break into my true potential," says Eamonn. "If not for him, I mightn't be running today. I might've reached a comfortable level in Ireland and settled for that."
Coghlan won the World Cup 5,000 in 1981, but soon thereafter suffered a stress fracture of his right shin. He didn't run indoors at all in 1982. When the bone had knitted and he began to train again, there was a new pain in his left heel. Nothing he tried eased the pain in his Achilles tendon. He had to surrender his outdoor season as well.
On May 4, 1982, Coghlan's Irish coach, Gerry Farnan, who had guided him since he was a child, died. Coghlan says, "If I'd won the gold [He was fourth in the 1976 Olympic 1,500 and fourth again in the 1980 5,000. Thus, the number of the day of Farnan's death did not escape him.], all of Ireland would have won. But when I lost, it was just Gerry and me who had to hear how badly I'd done. He was a quiet man, never claiming credit. At his funeral there were a thousand people, hundreds of them kids he'd affected."
Coghlan, who's now 30, will never have another coach. "Gerry was the guy I went to for pity, for motivation, for confidence," he says. "That can't be replaced, that taking of a man into the deepest of your confidence."
In the summer of 1982, Wessinghage suggested that Coghlan visit a clinic in West Germany. "They reached the same diagnosis my doctor in New Jersey, Dave Thomashow, had," says Coghlan, "that scar tissue in the tendon had hardened during the layoff for the stress fracture. But they did a kind of radiation treatment, like X-ray therapy. Within three days there was no pain."
Coghlan gradually returned to full training, with the born runner's gratitude. "Every day I have loved my running," he says. "When I won the Sunkist mile in January in 3:55.4 with a strong finish, I knew I was back."
In January Coghlan's father, William, came over from Dublin to visit Eamonn at his Rye, N.Y. home for a couple of weeks. The elder Coghlan, a vital, immensely likable man, was for years the president of the Irish Amateur Athletic Federation. On Super Bowl weekend, William went to a party with Eamonn and his wife, Yvonne, and both father and son contracted indigestion from Mexican food. "Monday he timed my workout at Manhattan College," recalls Eamonn. "It was the first time in his life he had done that."
On Monday night, Coghlan left his father watching TV with Yvonne and went to bed early. In the morning, departing for his usual five-mile run, he sent his daughter, Suzanne, to check her grandfather's bedroom. She returned, saying, "He's fast asleep."
"Normally he's the first one up," says Eamonn. "When I got back from my run, he still was in bed. Then I sensed something was wrong. I went up to him. He did look like he was having a pleasant sleep. There was a gentle smile on his face. When I touched him I knew he was dead."
Eamonn had come west across the Atlantic for Elliott's funeral and crossed to Ireland for Farnan's. Now he had to take the body of his father, who had died of a heart attack, home. "My tunnel vision, my concentration on running was shattered," he says. "I felt I had to explain somehow why he had died while with me. I felt guilty, as though if I hadn't taken him away to the States, he'd still be here. My mother said, 'This is the way he would want to go, having seen you back running well.' That was true. And it had been my father who helped me accept Gerry Farnan's loss, saying what a great good fortune it was to have such a friend for so long. That helped me in turn to accept his own going, even though he was so alive he was the last one you'd expect. Once over the initial grief, I felt if I could get through one hard race with the feel of the boards under my feet, the hungry attitude would come back."
Coghlan had expected that occasion to be the U.S. Olympic Invitational in New Jersey two weeks ago, but when it was postponed because of a snowstorm, he had to wait for San Diego.
Scott took over from Woods with 350 yards to go. Coghlan reacted at once, and they shot away from the field. "I knew it would be hard to get around him," said Coghlan later. "I respect him as much as I do Coe, off what he did last year. So I used the curve—going high and sprinting down the straight—with one lap left and really went."
He blasted past powerfully, shocking Scott, and built his margin to 12 yards at the finish. His time was 3:53.1, so his last 440 was about 53.8. Scott ran 3:54.5. Past the line, Coghlan pressed his hands to his head "in amazement. To win like that, against Steve, after a year away, is worth a world record."
There were records set at this traditionally strong meet, but none was accompanied by the depth of emotion that Coghlan lent to his performance. Indeed, Evelyn Ashford, who cut her 50-yard world record to 5.74 from the 5.77 she set a month ago, seemed almost blasé. "I'm stronger, so my start is better, so the records keep coming," she said. "But I mostly came out here for the Grand Prix points." To which, at the end of the season, Mobil will affix a financial reward.
Doug Padilla came from Provo, Utah to go after his own U.S. indoor two-mile record. Last year he had been 4:11 at the mile and blazed home in 8:16.8. This time the mile was a 4:10, but the fast start had tired him. With a quarter left, he needed a 58.4. He produced a 58.1, for a clocking of 8:16.5. He'd clearly given everything. "I guess I'm not quite where I was hoping I was," he said wanly, but these achievements are astonishing for one who trains so little. "Thirty miles a week," he said. "Mondays are relaxed, recovering from weekend races, and by Wednesday I'm already cutting down."
By contrast, there can be no more robust soul than Carl Lewis. The indoor sprint (6.02 for the 60 yards) and long jump (28'1") world-record holder was supremely animated in San Diego, but he faced a dilemma. If he jumped from a board far enough from the pit to give him a safe landing, his approach run would have to begin up on the sloping curve of the track. If he fit the whole run on the runway, he had to jump from a board so close to the pit that a record jump would likely drop him onto the elbowing packs of photographers who dog his every move. "But a run from a slope is just too unpredictable," he said. He asked to jump from the closer takeoff board. His fourth jump was 27'9½", and he couldn't have gone 28 without cracking his heels into the wooden frame of the pit. So he jumped 27'9½" again, sandblasting the lenses of the photographers one more time. Asked if a natural, though perhaps subconscious, concern for his life had prevented him from really uncoiling one, Lewis correctly replied, "Well, if it was subconscious, how would I know about it?" Then he said he was so excited by his form that he would double in the jump and sprint in this week's TAC Championships in New York City.
In that spirit, Scott and Coghlan jogged to their hotel for fast showers and were on their way to the airport by the time Billy Olson barely dislodged the pole-vault bar with his side, missing a world-record 19'¾". The milers had another appointment in Cleveland the following afternoon, a "Dream Mile" organized by the International Management Group and sold to ABC. Never mind that the Coliseum track is notoriously slow, or that Cleveland crowds have never embraced the sport. Or even, as Scott and Coghlan would discover, that you almost can't get to Cleveland from San Diego. No, these are young men who keep their promises.
Even so, Scott was heard to ask in the van to the airport, "Uh, tell me again why we are doing this." Both of them well knew. IMG had put up a not-quite-public sum as a winner-take-all incentive. When an ABC man hazarded a guess of $25,000, Brad Hunt, an IMG agent for runners, reacted as if he'd been bitten. "Oh, no," he said. "It was right around less than half of that, and all done through TAC." Whatever the amount, that meant the money was properly laundered to protect the runners' amateur status.
Scott and Coghlan discussed their children for a while. Then Scott asked about Padilla's race and learned that he'd also broken the American record for 3,000 meters en route. Scott stiffened. "That was my record," he said. They reached their 11:15 p.m. flight at 11:14 and managed a little sleep before alighting in Chicago at 5 a.m., local time. There they dozed on the carpet at the gate where two hours later they would board the plane to Cleveland. "You can't have a dream mile," Coghlan said, yawning, "unless you're asleep."
As they came off the plane in Cleveland, they blinked at bright sun in a chill Ohio sky. Defeating an attempt by their hotel to turn them away, they got rooms and slept for four hours. They met their competition, in the form of New Zealand's John Walker and Ireland's Ray Flynn (who had surpassed Coghlan's Irish record last summer with 3:49.77), in the lobby on the way to the track. "You look tired, Ray," sang out Coghlan. There was a contest to see who sounded most hale.
The mile was scheduled for 5:30 to suit TV. "We didn't have any choice in setting it up," said Drew Mearns, vice-president of IMG's running division. "ABC people wanted a nice mile. Only Cleveland would move its mile to 5:30."
And yet.... In spite of, or maybe because of, all these drawbacks, it was a compelling race. Randy Stephens of Athletic Attic went out front with purpose and ran 59.9 and 1:59.9 splits that looked even faster because everyone had to work so hard on the incessant banking. There were but three steps of level track on every straightaway. The rest was either climbing into a turn or stumbling out of one. This is Coghlan meat. He has such a quick, balanced stride that if he isn't careful he will run up on the taller, stiffer men in front of him. Flynn took the lead after the half, going into the second lane out of almost every turn. Scott, feeling tired, ran last. A gap opened between him and the leaders, but he closed it with four laps to go. "That gave me the confidence to be more aggressive," he said. He hit the lead with two to go, Coghlan passed him with 1½ remaining, yet Scott went to the front again entering the last lap. Coghlan, sprinting, but without the astonishing fury of the night before, drew fractionally ahead on the last turn and then bore in on Scott without enough of a lead to make such a move. "I didn't do it on purpose," he said later, "even though I was aware it would happen. The bank was so steep, at the speed we were going there was no way I could stay high." Scott threw out an arm, broke stride and lost his momentum. Coghlan roared to a 3:57.23 victory. Jose Abascal of Spain passed Scott for second, 3:58.22 to 3:58.42.
Scott thought Coghlan's excuses were sophistry. "He did that to me a couple of years ago in Ottawa," Scott said. "If this were a real, true, well-officiated meet, it would have been a disqualification. But this is indoors. No one will DQ Eamonn Coghlan." It seemed an unfortunate end to a race that Coghlan probably would have won anyway. But no one, certainly not Scott, would deny that Coghlan was back, hungrier and harder than ever.