Ingrid Kristiansen began the 10,000 meters on her home track in Oslo's Bislett Stadium with solid credentials. At age 30, she is the only runner, male or female, ever to hold world marks at the same time in the 5,000, the 10,000 and the marathon. But what she did last Saturday night at the Bislett Games was of a different order. In her final laps the stadium announcer was screaming, "We are seeing something that can never happen again!" And the renowned Oslo crowd, though chanting her onward, did it reverently, for there was no sign that she was in any pain, in any need of support.
Later Kristiansen would explain simply, "It's always nice to run if you're running fast," meaning running strongly, in perfect balance. "It was easy."
Almost sinfully easy, for she reached the finish of the 10,000 in 30:13.74, an astounding 45.68 seconds better than her old world record of 30:59.42 set here last year. Her performance outshone a ragged men's mile and a bloody men's 10,000.
She looked effortlessly light in the first miles. Lesley Welch of the U.S. paced her through 73-second laps. Kristiansen, unused to racing with company, stayed unnecessarily wide, off Welch's shoulder, running extra distance.
July 13, 1986
The time at 3,000 meters was 9:10.01, 12 seconds ahead of record pace. Welch dropped back, and Kristiansen assumed the lead with what seemed a dangerous eagerness. There was a long way to go, and madwomen tie up in the last 5,000.
But Kristiansen was not worried. "I train for conditioning, but I have worked on my head, too," she had said earlier. "A sports psychologist has taught me a lot about being positive, about how a record breaker is simply one who goes first. If one does, other runners soon follow. There's nothing special but the timing, so there's no need to be afraid."
She passed 5,000 meters in 15:11.33, and picked up the pace. Where she once ran wide, now she stayed but an inch or two from the rail, a sign of control. Her only problem was the runners she was lapping. Track etiquette called for them to give her a clear path, but occasionally they didn't and Kristiansen had to weave. "If I'd been chasing 30 minutes and they got in the way, then I'd be upset," she said. "But it was fine."
She came down the last straightaway on the inside, shoving her way through a pack of women two and three laps behind, and dramatically broke free just before the end. She had run her last 5,000 in 15:02.41. Only four other women have ever run that fast for 5,000 alone.
Johan Kaggestad, Kristiansen's coach, noted that the 10,000 record was due for a cut. "It looked soft because in other races—for example the marathon—the women's records are about 11 percent slower than the men's. The 10,000 was 14 percent slower."
In this one race Kristiansen brought the women's 10,000 to full standing: 30:13.74 is almost exactly 11 percent slower than the men's mark of 27:13.81, held by Portugal's Fernando Mamede.
That time is considered soft by few men, though one who does consider it so is Said Aouita of Morocco. He had been scheduled to run the mile at Bislett against archrival Steve Cram of Britain, but when Cram confirmed his entry Aouita switched to the 10,000. "I haven't done the speed training I need to be at my best for a mile," Aouita said. "But I know I can get the 10,000 record."
He said this despite never having run a 10,000. But he owns the 5,000 mark, set at Bislett last year, and the day before the race he said, "This will be an adventure for me, into the unknown."
It was, indeed, for drama follows Aouita like a spotlight. A huge field of 32 was entered, and runners stumbled all over each other in the first mile. Aouita kept safely out in the second lane until the fourth lap, but then an off-balance runner—"I don't know who," he said—spiked him deeply on the inside of his left ankle. He would run the last 21 laps with a half-crimson shoe, spraying droplets of blood on trailing runners.
"It didn't hurt until after 5,000," he said. "Then it stiffened. I thought of leaving the track." Running second to Mark Nenow of the U.S. with six laps to go, Aouita drew alongside Nenow and said, "I take one, you take one?"
"That was fine with me," Nenow, who was gunning for Alberto Salazar's American record of 27:25.61, said later. "But the laps he took were 66s. Mine were 65s." So with three laps to go, Nenow kept the lead. "I knew he'd probably hang on, but I wanted the time more than the winning."
Aouita did cling; he passed Nenow on the last backstretch, made it down the homestretch with his eyes upraised, and won in 27:26.11 to Nenow's PR (but not American record) 27:28.80. Then Aouita dropped to the track. Photographers covered him like a hill of beetles. Presently he was carried away on a stretcher for treatment, which included three stitches in his ankle and advice not to run for three days.
"If I wasn't injured, I'd have broken the record," he said. "Next year."
Cram stayed healthy but harbored no conviction that he would improve his mile mark of 3:46.32. "Too early in the season," he said. Yet he began as one possessed. James Mays, the race's rabbit, led through a violently fast first 220 of 26 seconds, and Cram wisely stayed back. But then, unaccountably, Cram tore through the next 220 to reach third place. Mays hit 440 yards in 53.24, an impossible 3:33 mile pace.
Everyone slowed. Cram led after three laps—in 2:52.05—and the stadium rose. A 53-second last lap, as in his record run at Bislett last year, would yield a 3:45 mile. In the backstretch he had 20 yards on Steve Scott and Jim Spivey, both of the U.S. But Cram was dead.
"When I went around Spivey with 260 to go," said Scott, "I thought, O.K., just run so no one catches you. Then I felt better and better. On the turn I began to think I might catch Cram, but I still figured he'd take off any second. I was in the stretch before I realized I could get him. By then it was too late."
Even so, it was exciting. Scott gained on Cram all the way to the line, but missed by 2½ yards, 3:48.31 to 3:48.73. "As long as I'm undefeated at the end of the year," said Cram, "I won't mind if this is the fastest mile of them all."
"I had to take April off with a flu virus that attacked my leg muscles," said Scott. "I didn't do the hard interval training that you need to run a 3:48, so this is a good sign. I'm well." He laughed. "And it does wonders for the head, too."
Kristiansen could tell the milers that. It's best when it's easy, and fast.