Steve Cram was stuck. there were 250 yards to go in the Bislett Games Dream Mile Saturday night in Oslo, and Cram, the Englishman who's the world record-holder at this distance, was boxed against the rail in sixth place. What's more, 1,500-meter world champion Abdi Bile of Somalia had just sailed by on the outside, free as a bird, beginning his kick.
"I wasn't sure what to do," Cram said later. "In front of me, [Joseph] Chesire and [Steve] Crabb were slowing. I'd never catch Bile if I went around them." So he went through them. "There was just enough room to push...well, not push, really, but elbow my way past on the inside."
Up ahead, Bile led around the turn but couldn't shake Peter Elliott of Britain and Jens-Peter Herold of East Germany. Cram, now fourth, saw the three leaders' backs forming a wall in front of him in the home stretch, and it didn't help that he knew why this had happened. "I was there because of indecision," he said. "Going in, I wanted to react, to learn how I'd fare in a 200-meter kick against Bile. But I hadn't reacted to all the other guys."
This was the first time Bile and Cram had raced since the World Championships in Rome last September. That 1,500 was the single crack in Cram's exemplary career as a major-face tactician. For five years he had won everything there was to win, save the 1984 Olympic gold medal in Los Angeles, where he had finished second behind countryman Sebastian Coe. Cram had been injured most of that year, so even silver had been unexpected.
July 10, 1988
Besides, Cram avenged that defeat at this meet in Oslo in 1985, whipping Coe and chopping the mile record to his still-standing 3:46.32. He did it by blasting over the last 200 in 25.4 seconds.
But in 1987 Cram was mysteriously inconsistent. "I wasn't ill, but I didn't have confidence in my kick," he said. "In the straight in Rome, when my chances of winning had gone, all the strength and application drained out of me." He had tottered in, spent, a shocking eighth. Then he passed a winter in the company of acid doubts.
"I'm 27. I've been at the top for five or six years," he said. "You wonder if it's still there. I needed this race more than some of the others needed it."
A rabbit, James Mays of the U.S., hopped out to ambitious splits of 55.28 for the 440 and 1:54.47 for the 880, but all the good guys ignored him. Dead last after a lap and a half was Bile, just beside Steve Scott of the U.S. Cram was eighth. The rabbits—Paul Larkins of Great Britain served that role, too—had been the promoters' idea. "I didn't know anyone who'd go with the pacemakers," said Cram. "I sure wasn't going to."
That was because there are still nearly three months until the Olympics in Seoul. As fervently as European meet directors may wish for a Bactrian season, with one hump now and another in September, it's not going to work that way. "When the Olympics come round, everyone will have forgotten who won this race," said Cram before the Bislett mile.
Yet there is one person who, come Seoul, may well look back on Oslo as a revelation. Eamonn Martin, 29, a former British cross-country champion, had never run 10,000 meters on the track. He dealt with the fast pace in his debut a lap at a time, gaining confidence as the race went on, and ripped away from Salvatore Antibo of Italy and Arturo Barrios of Mexico to win in a stadium-and British-record 27:23.06. It was the best first 10,000 any runner has ever had and the sixth-fastest time in history.
The women's 10,000 hinted that this event may soon become more competitive. Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway had never been beaten at the distance. She had set four world records on this track, the best being her 30:13.74 in the 10,000 two years ago. No other woman has come within 40 seconds of that time. The 32-year-old Kristiansen loves to set an intimidating early pace, running out to such an insurmountable lead that it doesn't matter that she's not a great kicker. Here, tanned and wearing white gloves, she strode away from the start.
The one woman she knew she had to watch was Liz Lynch McColgan, 24, of Dundee, Scotland. Whatever Kristiansen did, McColgan would do. Never mind that her best time was 31:19.82. McColgan was determined.
Their styles are a contrast. Kristiansen runs on her toes and often gives an upward glance, as if asking a higher authority how much longer this suffering need continue. McColgan touches her heels down first and never lifts her gaze from the track.
Kristiansen could have used divine intervention this night. Her lap times slowed from 72's to 74's, and then 76's. McColgan moved alongside Kristiansen, as if to spur her on. The lap times became 77's.
Then Kristiansen revealed what was wrong. She rubbed her abdomen and winced. She had a stitch, a cramp.
McColgan took the lead with .1,500 meters to go. Kristiansen hung on for 500 and then slowed to a walk. As McColgan rolled away, Kristiansen suddenly stopped, stretched and massaged her right side. In emotional as well as physical agony at pulling up in a race in her nation's hallowed stadium, she resumed running, still in second place.
McColgan, now far ahead, displayed impressive reserves by covering the last lap in 69 seconds to win in 31:06.99. Kristiansen held second in 31:31.37.
"If this race had not been here at home, I wouldn't have run it," she said after she recovered. With Nordic candor, she explained that the cramps were menstrual, that this had happened to her before, that it was a royal pain, but what could you do? Such was her description that she had a few male members of the press twisted in sympathy.
Far less troubled was the magnificent Heike Drechsler of East Germany, who won the women's 100 in 10.91 and coyly refused to confirm which events she'll participate in at the Olympics. Her hints: "The long jump, no relays and the 100...or maybe the 200...or maybe both."
Why so many secrets? "Because," she said, giggling, "everybody has secrets."
There are no secrets in the last lap of a mile. Now, boxed in fourth going into the stretch, Cram felt he would never get by if he tried to run wide. But then he drew on his experience.
"I took a risk," he would say later. "I hoped Bile would move out." A straining leader will sometimes unconsciously edge to the right, to force any challengers wide. Bile had Herold and Elliott off his right shoulder. He did drift out. And Cram gratefully drove through on the inside.
There was a moment, 50 meters from the finish, when all four men were even. Then Cram's old reliable kick swept him past to win in 3:48.85. Elliott was second in 3:49.20, Herold third in 3:49.22 and Bile fourth in 3:49.40. Scott ran 3:50.09 for fifth.
"I know I said no one would remember in September who won this race," said an elated Cram, "but I'm happy to win it." He was a racer once more.
All were content with their times. All affirmed that their peaks are yet to come. "Abdi ran well," said Bile's coach, John Cook. Then he watched the light in Cram's eyes. "This may be best for everyone," he said, "at this stage."