July 07, 1986
July 07, 1986

Table of Contents
July 7, 1986

World Cup
Football Trial
Anglo-American Football
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over


Since it opened in 1922, Bislett Stadium in Oslo has been the site of an astonishing number of world records in both track and field and speed skating. What is there about the place that lifts athletes in two sports to such stellar performances? Part of the answer can be discovered in the Norwegian people themselves

Billy Mills and Bob Schul, those two distinguished American Olympic champions, sat, more pressed together than they really cared to be, in the stands at Oslo's Bislett Stadium. They were watching Ron Clarke of Australia begin a 10,000-meter run.

This is an article from the July 7, 1986 issue Original Layout

"Track looks a little soft," said Mills. Indeed, in the opening laps the backs of Clarke's tanned legs were taking on a coating of moist, black grit. The day was July 14, 1965, a few years before artificial surfaces came into widespread use. Clarke was running on Bislett's aged cinders.

Mills and Schul both had won gold medals in the Tokyo Olympics the year before, in the 10,000 and 5,000 respectively. Both had beaten Clarke, whose kick often betrayed him in big races. Clarke's forte was a hard even pace. They had come out on this gray evening, they said, because they wanted to see Clarke go after a record.

Clarke had no patience with the idea of pacemakers, so after a mile he was well ahead of his only competition. Ireland's Jim Hogan and Denmark's Claus Boersen were running simply to satisfy the International Amateur Athletic Federation rule that any race in which a record is set be a bona fide competition. Clarke already owned the world record for the 10,000—28:14.0, set a month earlier—but he wanted to drive it far below 28 minutes. In addition, officials had made sure that there were three timers at the six-mile point, 376 yards before the finish. The mark for six miles belonged to Mills and Gerry Lindgren. At the AAU championships two weeks earlier, Mills and Lindgren had tied in 27:11.6, a time superior to Clarke's 10,000 best.

"He's going to break 27, you know he is," Schul said to Mills with calculated glee. Schul had a way of going over one's psychic armor with a dental pick, scraping for nerves, prying up loose plates. He grinned a buck-toothed grin. Mills didn't look at him.

It was getting noisy. The atmosphere had been electric from the gun, and now the crowd had begun a rhythmic applause and chant, exactly matched to Clarke's footfalls. In response, he picked up the pace. Immediately the crowd adjusted its own tempo to hold him there. This wasn't an early version of the wave, with just those nearest the runner shouting him on. The entire stadium chanted his every stride.

Clarke was running each kilometer in 2:45, each mile in 4:25. "He's going like a bat," said Schul. "I bet he does take your record. What do you want to bet?" Mills gave him his stoniest stare.

There were 21,100 people in Bislett Stadium, a near-capacity crowd. The concrete stands completely enclose the arena, and the track has only six lanes instead of the more usual eight, so it seemed to Clarke that the crowd was blasting its surging, staccato demands right into his ear.

"Running by yourself, with no competition, all you have to rely on is your rhythm," he would say many years later. "When the crowd's rhythm is in unison, it can keep you going long past where you'd stop if you were alone."

The rolled cinder surface gave way under Clarke's spikes. He had to run wider and wider to stay on firm footing. Each time he came into the homestretch he had to cross a little groove worn where steeplechasers rejoined the track after taking the water jump. Once he stepped in this inch-deep gully and felt his leg threaten to buckle. He was tiring. He was past the halfway point. The crowd howled on. He was holding the pace.

"Billy, oh, Billy," crowed Schul. "Your record's gonna go. It's gonna go!"

Mills turned to Schul. "Bob," he said. His voice was dry and taut. "The guy just did 5,000 meters faster than you when you won the Olympic 5,000. If he doesn't slow down, no one is ever going to get this record back."

Schul didn't say much after that. He couldn't have been heard, anyway. The Oslo crowd knew exactly what kilometer times Clarke needed. He was so far ahead of them all that each successive split shouted over the public-address system by a hysterical announcer was greeted with new thunder.

In the last miles some of the wild hunger went out of the sound. A sense of grand occasion set in. Edvard Braeim, who was covering the race for Oslo's Dagbladet newspaper, says, "I remember him all alone in the clean night, running with the people cheering him, pouring out more and more for them." The scene has come to represent many other races and a disturbing number of other records set in the modest confines of Bislett. It is the archetype.

Clarke passed six miles in 26:47.0, gutting Mills's Record by 24.6 seconds. He finished in 27:39.4, improving the 10,000 standard by 34.6 seconds. The mark lasted seven years, until Lasse Viren of Finland broke it by one second in the 1972 Olympic final, on Munich's swift Rekortan surface.

Good artificial surfaces are said to be about a second per lap faster than the type of loose cinders that Bislett had in 1965. If so, Clarke's record would have been a 27:14.0 on a. modern track. The current world record is 27:13.81, held by Portugal's Fernando Mamede, set in 1984.

Forty-five track and field world records have been set at Bislett Stadium, scene of this week's Bislett Games. In the winter the track is flooded. On the resulting ice, 18 world speed-skating records have been broken. There are a few other venues where more records have been set, but none so storied as Bislett. Some of the factors that account for these records are Oslo's oxygen-rich sea-level air, a tradition of the finest athletes peaking for Bislett competitions, perhaps the best wind protection in Europe and the stadium's efficacious track or skating oval. But other cities have good air and surfaces. The best athletes run in other places. There must be something else going on at Bislett.

Bislett officially opened in 1922 and has been reconstructed five times over the years, once for the 1952 Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies and speed skating. In 1924 Adriaan Paulen of the Netherlands set the track's first world record, 1:03.8 for 500 meters. The following year Norway's Charles Hoff pole-vaulted a record 13'10½". Both athletes later gained a measure of authority. Hoff became a Nazi collaborator and was made an aide to the minister of sports for the Quisling government during Germany's 1940-1945 occupation of Norway. After the war, the despised Hoff was imprisoned in Oslo for 4½ years.

Paulen fought for the Allies in the underground in Western Europe during World War II. Much, much later, when he had risen to be president of the IAAF, which governs all international track and field competition, the irascible Paulen would have been hard pressed to certify his own 500-meter time as a record, because Bislett's track in 1924 met few current official requirements. Wedged between surrounding buildings and a brick-works, the track had two right-angle turns at one end, then a gently oblique one and, memorably, a wrenching, 135-degree cutback to reach the homestretch.

With that crazy pivot in there, races of more than a lap had no prayer of fast times. Bislett's early records came in the field events and sprints. Immense (6'2¾", 304 pounds) Jack Torrance of the U.S. put the shot 57'1" there on Aug. 5, 1934. The next day, his teammate Eulace Peacock ran 100 meters in 10.3, tying the world record. Another American, Percy Beard, did the 110-meter high hurdles in 14.2 on the same day. Forrest Towns of the U.S. cut that to 13.7 in 1936 after the Berlin Olympics. Then came the war, and rebuilding and the beginning of a flood of magnificent running that has yet to crest.

Bislett's low beige walls are not at once distinguishable from the neighboring Frydenlund brewery. Only the back-stretch stands are covered. The ends of the stadium have no seats, just standing-room terraces. A tile-roofed brick clubhouse mushrooming from the stands on the homestretch is the only touch of Scandinavian quaintness preserved from the '20s.

It is an Oslo city facility, always open. If on a quiet day you slip through a door at the end of the three-story clubhouse, you will find yourself in a stairwell. A shiny black bannister leads you up composition stone steps. You mount past photographs of Bislett's great runners and skaters. The latest races, the three world-record breakers of last July 27, come first: Norway's Ingrid Kristiansen lifts a cup after her 30:59.42 10,000. Britain's Steve Cram calmly waves at the finish of his 3:46.32 mile ("If you can't run well at Bislett," Cram said afterward, "you can't run well anybloodywhere"). And an absorbed Said Aouita of Morocco, with Sydney Maree of the U.S. just behind, pushes toward a new 5,000 record of 13:00.40. On the wall above Aouita, a tortured David Moorcroft of Britain, hard and brown and wild, sets the record in 1982 that Aouita barely broke, 13:00.41.

You climb through eras. After a look at Tomas Gustafson of Sweden skating the 10,000 in 14:23.59 (skaters go almost twice as fast as runners) in 1982, you come to the great displays of Britain's Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett. Coe's first three runs at Bislett were world records. After his 1:42.33 800 in 1979, he puts his arms up in salute. His expression is heavy lidded, filled with what seems relief. A yard from the end of his 3:48.95 mile a couple of weeks later, he is jut jawed, trying to see the track over his chin. And the next year, on July 1, 1980, before the Moscow Olympics, he looks nothing but smug after winning a world-record 1,000 meters in 2:13.40.

A show of confidence was perhaps demanded, because his prime Moscow opponent, Ovett, took Coe's record in the mile that day, with 3:48.80. Ovett's grin during that mile is pure shark. His opponents must worry about their ribs and arms and necks should he fly into a feeding frenzy in the backstretch. If his separated, no doubt serrated, teeth were to be knocked out by an errant elbow, more seem ready to crowd into the gaps.

Above, John Walker of New Zealand concludes, in agonizing pain, his finest record. He will always be known as the first man under 3:50 for the mile, but at Bislett on June 30, 1976, he ran 2,000 meters in 4:51.45, the equal of reaching the mile in 3:54.4 then carrying on for a full extra lap at the same pace. Cram broke Walker's mark only last year, and only by a hundredth of a second.

A similarly unheralded record, one that still stands, is being set nearby, as Kenya's Henry Rono sprints down the stretch in his 7:32.1 3,000 meters on June 26, 1978. His singlet strap has started to slip over a shoulder. His brow shows the suffering. His mouth is open, and the gap in his lower teeth that marks him as a Nandi tribesman is clear. Yet his hands are open, his wrists as relaxed as if they were lying on a bedspread.

You move up the stairs to see, in startling red, Eric Heiden, who here amassed a record 162.973 points for the unprecedented combined skating distances of 500, 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the world championships of 1979.

"If you win the first three distances [the shortest], then you are the champion automatically," says Heiden now. "That's what I'd done in Sweden the year before, so then I'd just bagged the 10,000. Well, in Oslo in 1979 I won the first three again, but then I really went for the 10,000. I remember a mass of people being out on the ice on both sides, and people hanging out of the apartment buildings that look down on the stadium, and that wave of yelling following me. There is something good about knowing you can do that, can go way beyond winning. The '79 worlds were the most satisfying of all my meets."

Heiden seems in perfect company, because he is next to Ron Clarke, frozen in midrace, July 14, 1965. Clarke's expression is one of grave doubt. "When I ran hard," he said in London last February, "there usually was a point at which I didn't think I'd be able to finish."

After Clarke's great effort, Bislett slumped. It was eight years until the next record, New Zealand's 14:40.4 for the 6,000-meter relay in 1973. But during that time there were astonishments nonetheless. In 1972, when the U.S. Olympic team trained in Oslo, a man took a javelin in the abdomen, a javelin thrown 240 feet away by U.S. Olympian Bill Schmidt.

The recipient was Gunnar Engebretsen, a bank executive and secretary of Vidar, Grete Waitz's club. Engebretsen had walked across the infield without looking. The spear lodged in the point of his hipbone, which was a shock, but the best place to be hit because there it missed everything soft and vital. U.S. Olympic head coach Bill Bowerman had a memorable reaction, standing over the pale, prostrate Engebretsen. "You forgot your shield," Bowerman said.

Schmidt was more shaken. He threw terribly for a few weeks but recovered to take the bronze medal in Munich.

The photographs are now all black and white. They reach the top of the stairs, go along a corridor and lead into a sort of storage room piled with chairs. That's where blond Terje Pedersen of Norway launches the first 300-foot javelin throw, on Sept. 2, 1964. And the smile of Josh Culbreath still blazes as captured on Aug. 9, 1957, when he ran 50.5 for the 440-yard hurdles.

And here are two dusty pictures that must be outlined in neon in thousands of Norwegian memories. The first is of Audun Boysen of the home country, setting a 1,000-meter record in September 1953. Boysen is notable for the great engines of his thighs. In the second photo Boysen and Belgium's Roger Moens are locked in battle in the 800 meter on Aug. 3, 1955.

Boysen is leaning back, his legs outrunning the Belgian. Moens's straining gargoyle face is all teeth, as if he were about to bite the tape. Moens won in a world-record 1:45.7. Boysen's 1:45.9 still stands, 31 years later, as the Norwegian record.

Boysen, now 57, keeps near his racing weight. "I run when I find a forest," he says. "I don't consider it civilization, the putting of concrete on all the roads." He is a public relations consultant for the Swedish-Norwegian Industrial Fund and does not mind at all taking a winter visitor for a walk on the ice above the final turn where he made his run at Moens.

"The time at 400 meters was 52 seconds, set by a pacemaker," he says. "Moens dared to follow him. I didn't. He had 10 meters on me in the first lap. Only one was left when we came to the goal. I felt like I had more left, but he said if I went near, he did too."

Boysen was not of a nature to be crestfallen. "I thought a lot about how serious this should be," he says. "Should the whole world fall to ruins if you lose? Or should there be a smile on your face?"

Boysen always smiled, in part because running was a natural joy to him, in part to incur less competitive pressure. "I felt that I was manipulating myself, saying that for Mr. Boysen the working part of his life was real, and the runner was a funny friend brought along for other occasions. If I hadn't been so eager to take this burden from myself, I might have run some tenths faster."

Boysen, who has organized meets at Bislett, makes no claims for its being especially conducive to records, at least physically. The track's surface was changed to Rekortan in 1971.

When it was resurfaced last year, the straightaway was found to be 11 centimeters uphill.

No, says Boysen, Bislett's power is over the mind. "It has a standing, you see, that gears people to perform. The treatment of the athletes, the strawberry party the night before [a gathering at the home of meet codirector Arne Haukvik that has become an institution] create a milieu that athletes want to acknowledge with good results. And, of course, the crowd knows what sport is. They know the inspiration they are, with the cheer going around."

Only one Norwegian male runner has ever broken a world record, and that is Boysen. But the revolution in women's distance running has been led by Norway's Grete Waitz. In annual slices at the New York Marathon, she chopped the women's best from 2:34:48 to 2:25:29. (The current mark is 2:21:06 by her countrywoman Kristiansen.) In the Bislett stairwell, there is one old photo of Waitz, taken after her 3,000 record of 8:45.4 in 1976, but Oslo has further honored her, and deeply embarrassed her, by putting up her likeness in bronze outside the stadium.

"I was born in Oslo," Waitz says. "Before I knew about track, I was always at Bislett to watch skating. I first ran there at 15 or 16. I watched Ron Clarke run his last race there in 1970." The weary Clarke, sixth in a 10,000 won by Frank Shorter, was nonetheless pushed to the top of the victory stand and given cross-country skis to symbolically ensure his return (Australia having few Nordic runs).

"So Bislett has always been my home track," says Waitz. "I trained there at least once a week, and on those days I went with the excitement almost of a race." She pauses. "I sometimes hated Bislett. I associated it with being nervous. I could just think of it and get much too excited."

The Bislett photographs wind ever deeper into its past. They skip a large press room and stop beside an unmarked door. Inside is a quiet, inviting chamber. The walls are knotty pine, the windows, which open above the finish line, are curtained in red. The carpet is soft rose.

This is the King's Room. Unlike the royal retreats tucked away in many European buildings, this one has received constant use. The sporting interests of Norway have been well embodied by its recent monarchs.

From 1814 to 1905, Norway was unified with Sweden, but with independence came the question of whether or not to even have a king. Norwegians settled it democratically. They elected one, a Danish prince who became King Haakon VII, and later was known as King Happy for his animated cackle.

When in April 1940 Nazi Germany attacked Norway, the parliament and cabinet were on the verge of surrender. Haakon, in a dramatic speech, galvanized the country to resistance. Throughout the German occupation, he broadcast to his nation from England. His son, the present king, Olav V, 83, won a gold medal in sailing in the 1928 Olympics and is an inveterate Nordic skier. He has jumped from Oslo's terrifying Holmenkollen ski jump, and even now may be seen on a winter Sunday, gliding in the woods, always wearing the same faded blue parka.

There is a photo in the King's Room of two guys cracking each other up. One is King Haakon VII. The other is Norway's most beloved athlete, Hjalmar Andersen, who won three gold medals in speed skating in the 1952 Olympics at Bislett.

Andersen, 63, is warm and craggy, with a voice that sounds like the scraping together of pieces of flatbread. "That picture was from when I first met the king," he says. "The king said, 'They tell me you're a driver of trucks.' I said I was. He said, 'Then how did you get such strong legs?'

"I said, 'I take out the seats. I grab the wheel and hold myself in the cab without the seats.' It was just after he figured out that isn't possible that he got hysterical."

Andersen, who works for the Norwegian Merchant Marine, seeing to the welfare of seamen around the world, is gloriously gregarious, a clear extension of a remarkably energetic racing career. In 1951, when skating the 10,000, a photographer temporarily blinded him with a flash at 6,000 meters. Andersen, very tired by then, fell. Skaters, of course, race in pairs, against the clock. He was given an hour to rest; then he raced again and won.

"In those years after the war," he says, "Norway wanted a Norwegian on the top in skating. It was my good luck to be there then, to fill an unusual need." He has a parallel in Britain's Roger Bannister, whose four-minute mile in 1954 helped restore the British public's faith in the force of its own will.

"Nineteen fifty-two," says Andersen firmly, "was the last amateur Games. There were no commercials then, no sponsors. Just us. I'd had good years in 1950 and '51. I was on the crest of a wave."

The Bislett Olympic ice had a translucent celadon porcelain gleam. Andersen can remember the sweet pungency of the crowd's collective breath, a mixture of schnapps and brandy and aquavit so volatile that the air seemed to shimmer. "For speed skating, the Bislett rink is special," he says. "The ice is so close to the audience, you hear them as one voice." In Andersen's gesture, Bislett's encouragement was a hand on his butt, pushing him forward. No man's medals have been more assured.

Andersen cherishes the friendship of Heiden. "The greatest skater we have seen," he says. "His humor, it is fine. I took him to the farm of the king to milk a cow. And we got competing at it, at who gets the most milk in a set time. He's from Wisconsin. He wins. Then, up at Holmenkollen, we competed at throwing milk cans. I hit a tree, so that's why he won."

Soon Andersen is on the floor of his office, showing how he Indian-wrestled the 25-year-old Heiden. "I was scared. I remembered those legs. But I was lucky with the timing and I won that. Then we arm-wrestled." His tone is of a foregone conclusion. "Well, I had been a rower. Eric, he started to bend me down, but I twisted our wrists, to make it only a test of biceps, and...ah, no Norwegian has beaten Eric Heiden but me." It's a lovely picture. All they needed was the king to referee.

"I have a feeling that Hjalmar and I had exactly the same attitude," said Heiden at his parents' Wisconsin home last May, still giggling. "You have fun, do your best and, shoot, you get around that celebrity stuff somehow."

Bislett is one of the few places where skating and running overlap. Among athletes there is usually little crossover. "Running is cardiovascular. Skating is muscle, only from the knees to the chest," says Arne Kvalheim, 41, Oslo's city council member in charge of transportation. "Runners ski in winter. Skaters cycle in summer."

Kvalheim, who ran for Oregon in the late '60s, at one time held six Norwegian distance records, from the 1,500 to the 5,000. Then his younger brother, Knut, broke all six. In a speech before the European speed skating championships early this year, Arne Kvalheim announced the city's plans to tear down the homestretch stands at Bislett and replace them with modern facilities. "But we won't wreck its intimacy," he said later. "It is a conscious policy to have no more than 20,000. That smashes people together and gets them aroused."

Kvalheim, who loves to credit the aroma of the adjoining brewery for his running well at Bislett, is not willing to call the stadium's throng a perfect crowd. "When Steve Scott ran 3:47.69 and just missed the world record in the mile in 1982, people cheered during the race, but when they heard the time, they just stopped cold, disappointed."

So they are spoiled, but in the manner of connoisseurs. "There are other places," says Braeim, the writer for Dagbladet, "where the athletes feel near the spectators, where they are like family together. Stockholm's Olympic Stadium from 1912. Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. London's old White City Stadium, which has been torn down. But the rest feel too plastic, too big. Moscow's Lenin Stadium is hopeless. You can't shout from one end to the other." And in L.A.'s Coliseum you can, but not many Angelenos care to, not at a track meet.

It is inescapable. Bislett has its records because of its crowd. It has its crowd because of Oslo. Three-quarters of the city's 175 square miles is forest, field or park. "We are a small capital of 450,000," says Braeim. "It is cozy, rather old-fashioned, rather peasantlike. Oslo people are known as stubborn, practical and in some ways very conservative. The feeling is, 'We have it good, so why take chances with that?' We have a good social system and no poverty for that reason, favorable climate. The oil that has made us rich in the last years is offshore, out of sight."

Braeim's sense is that all this is related to the atmosphere at Bislett. "It makes it easy for the athletes. They are under no uncomfortable pressure. No guards follow them around. It's so casual that they feel free to do well."

It's not really to the point, but a visitor finds Oslo citizens decidedly unpleasant-like. A peasant would disapprove of the lightly wrapped, free-swinging majesty of Oslo's summertime girls. This is the city of Grieg and Munch and Vigeland, of Ibsen. Norwegians have long led a hardy life. It seems safe to say that when things got easier, their appreciation of difficult attainment simply, well, endured.

When you go to a performance of Cats in Old Norwegian, the crowd responds to its delights with rhythmic clapping. This is not a particularly expressive ovation. It doesn't leap and ebb the way anarchic applause does. It holds a pace.

When rioting prisoners bang their cups on the bars, and heavy-metal bands or children at their most infuriating scream and pound, and do it in unison, it seems humankind's most potent aural attack. Whether it frightens or thrills or maddens, it always seizes. The Oslo crowd possesses all that power but employs with it a kind of transparent goodness.

They cheer. It's a perfect word. Cheer up, the crowd screams. You suffer for a reason. Cheers! Here's to you, good fellow. You're our toast. Smell the aquavit. "When I ran my best 3,000," says Waitz of her 1976 Bislett record, "I felt the people almost running with me. They knew what I was going through." The crowd suspended some of her timidity and sense of going it alone and made her brave.

"The crowds in the stadium are always the same people," says Ida Fossum T√∏nnessen, Oslo's director of parks and athletics, "and they bring their children up to understand how it works."

T√∏nnessen was raised that way. "I lived more at Bislett than at home," she says. "I was one of the skating hundreds at night. You know, you can have 25,000 in there when you are standing, but your feet don't touch the ground." At least not when you are 10 years old and watching Hjalmar Andersen win three gold medals in the Olympics. "In 1955, when my hero, Audun Boysen, ran against Roger Moens, I was 13. I won the gold medal for casting the leather weight with a wire [an incomprehensible event in which juniors compete], and I got my prize right before the race with 20,000 watching. That's what I remember."

She composes herself a little and speaks of the additions Bislett is soon to receive. More toilets, parking, showers' and training rooms. "But still only six lanes. If we have eight, it means we have to take down the whole place. We are not building an Olympic stadium."

That's O.K. with meet codirector Haukvik. "No, no, we have no intention to be bigger," he says. He is a theatrically charming man, with an ideal background for a promoter: In the '50s Haukvik was a vacuum-cleaner salesman in Chicago. "We simply want to do the best we can, every year, to make athletes feel at home in Oslo and Bislett without buying them." Bislett, of course, pays its attractions, but it could not win a bidding war with other meets. "Andreas Brügger [the director of Zurich's prestigious Weltklasse meet] wants to be the biggest in the world. Zurich's budget is $600,000, more than twice ours. Money for sprinters. Money for every field event. Fine, fine. Who had the three world records last year?"

Haukvik and codirector Svein Arne Hansen direct their resources, largely from an ABC-TV contract, toward shaping classic Bislett races—in the distances. "No sprinters," says Haukvik. "Sprinters cost the same and last 10 seconds and, puff, they're over. Middle-distance runners are more fun, and it's a better chance to get young Norwegians in the race."

Haukvik is still looking for a countryman to beat the world. "In skating the people get to see Norwegians win sometimes, but never in running."

He embraces himself at the thought. "If we had just one Norwegian runner who could compete with Cram and Aouita, we would be able to get by with inviting 100 fewer foreigners."

That sounds a little extreme to him. "We would never cut back, though. That week in summer is a United Nations that works. So many friends." Haukvik chooses, as a happy example, Ron Clarke. "He was a promoter's dream. He would race any time, any day, any distance, against any competition and with no concern about money. [It is Clarke's recollection that for the grandest of Bislett world records, he got about $500.] We used him to attract other athletes, because the best always wanted to race him. If they could stay with him, they had a chance to outkick him. He's even responsible for the famous strawberry party. He traveled with his wife, Helen, and the three kids and liked to avoid hotels, so they stayed at our home. Ron loved Norwegian strawberries and cream, so I served some to journalists who came to the house to interview him." Now it's a merry bash under the apple trees on Haukvik's hillside lawn, the Coes, the Waitzes, the Crams, the Kristiansens and the Clarkes all socializing in an empyrean of infinite possibilities.

This is what astronauts say: The multitude below boosts a few up, to go where no one has ever gone before, and to draw the rest of us up there as well. Bislett's runner or skater, driving toward a record, is equally an extension of his audience. The act of separating oneself from history's pack becomes the act of affirming one's inseparability.

"That rapport," says Clarke, "was better than having a rabbit."


PHOTOLANE STEWARTTHREE PHOTOSVG-FOTO/KUNT EDV. HOLMBislett's world records include (from left) Coe's 1,000 meters in 1980, Clarke's 10,000 in 1965 and Rono's 3,000 in 1978.PHOTOLANE STEWARTWedged into central Oslo, the city-owned stadium is famed for its enthusiastic—and often adoring—crowds, as British runners Ovett (36) and Coe (bottom) could well attest.PHOTOVG-FOTO/KUNT EDV. HOLM[See caption above.]PHOTOVG-FOTO/TORE BERNTSEN[See caption above.]PHOTOVG-FOTOBoysen, a fixture at Bislett in the '50s (top), is still Norway's 800-meter record holder.PHOTOLANE STEWART[See caption above.]PHOTOSTEVE POWELL/ALL-SPORTAt Bislett last year, Kristiansen set a world record of 30:59.42 in the 10,000 meters.PHOTOMICHAEL KING/ALL-SPORT[See caption above.]PHOTOLANE STEWARTSome runners credit their Bislett records to the heady aroma from the nearby brewery.PHOTONORSK TELEGRAMBYRANorway's Andersen competed at Bislett in '51 and still shows his Olympic gold-medal-winning form.PHOTOLANE STEWART[See caption above.]PHOTOVG-FOTO/BJORN ASLAKSENBislett milestones: Heiden won four races at the '79 worlds; '52 marked the "last amateur Games."PHOTONORSK TELEGRAMBYRA[See caption above.]PHOTOLANE STEWARTThe stadium stairs lead up three stories to the King's Room.