Williams, 26, suffered a stress fracture in a toe last summer but recovered to finish ninth in the World Cross-Country Championships in March. He followed that with a 27:31 in the 10,000 at a meet in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., in April. Among Americans, only Mark Nenow and Salazar have run that distance faster.
This is what Kennedy and Williams gave Eugene on Sunday: Four laps of pure, all-out racing, of the type in which Prefontaine and Frank Shorter might have once engaged. After a rabbit-paced mile in 4:08, Kennedy assumed the lead and Williams moved to his shoulder. Twice they traded the lead. For the final 600 meters, Kennedy fought back Williams to win by inches in 8:14.53.
They embraced and then jogged a lap together. "We're friends," says Kennedy, "but we were both racing to win, and we wound up taking each other to a higher level." There was one other thing about the race. It was a sound heard as Kennedy and Williams ripped through the final four laps, an impassioned clapping that turned to a throaty roar as they finished. It was the noise of knowledge and appreciation and history. It was an old sound, like the eerie foot-stamping of the night before. But it wasn't for a ghost this time, it was for living people taking up where the ghost had left off. It was the sound of track and field, breathing easily for a day.