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Master of the Mile
John Walters
October 28, 1996
Steve Scott, now 40 and a cancer survivor, plans to break four minutes again
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October 28, 1996

Master Of The Mile

Steve Scott, now 40 and a cancer survivor, plans to break four minutes again

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Scott was at San Diego's Kaiser Hospital for six days following his cancer surgery. His mother, Mary, stayed with him for three days. "Steve asked me to stay," says Mary, a registered nurse who lives with Steve's father, Gordon, a retired physician, in Upland, Calif. "He knew that nothing bad could happen to him as long as I was there."

In junior high Steve built a dragon out of papier-mâché for his mom. It was three feet long, with fierce eyes and black spikes on its green back. "I still have the dragon—it reminds me of Steve," says Mary. "It's in his old bedroom, with his trophies."

At Steve and Kim's wedding in 1979, Steve wanted the organist to play his favorite song, Puff, the Magic Dragon. Kim, mindful that many folks consider Puff a pro-marijuana anthem, vetoed the idea. It was not the first dispute between Steve and Kim, who had dated since high school. Nor would it be the last.

"We have a rule for arguments," says Kim, the family's tough cop. "Steve's not allowed to call me Big Butt—"

"—and she's not allowed to call me Mama's Boy," says Steve.

When the newlyweds moved into their first house, Steve cautiously entered the laundry room, stared at the two machines there and asked, "Which one's the dryer?" No wonder Kim is fond of saying, "I've given birth to three children but am a mother of four."

Of course, kids have more fun. "I remember watching Steve on TV when I was growing up," says Steve Holman, 26, the top U.S. miler today. "This was the Fifth Avenue Mile. Right before the race, during intros, Steve's making bunny ears behind some guy's head."

Scott once ran a downhill mile in Auckland, New Zealand, in 3:29.44. (The course dipped 200 feet from start to finish.) While he was a student at UC Irvine he streaked through a Psychology 101 class. ("It was Deviant Day," he explains.) Scott even ran a nude mile relay with friends one night in Gainesville, Fla. (It wasn't one of his fastest performances. "You must take into account," he says with a mischievous grin, "the factor of drag.")

Scott is slowing. After three laps his time is 3:04. Scott has always been known as a courageous runner—"The toughest competitor I ever ran against, "says Coghlan—but a 55-second final lap demands more than courage from a 40-year-old body. Stember is closing on Scott. He may be just the whip Scott requires. The sellout crowd and a national TV audience take notice of the duel for last place. In Upland, Gordon and Mary Scott's TV is turned off. "I want to remember him the way he was," says Mary. "My heart breaks for him when things don't go well."

Being the most prolific miler in U.S. history guarantees neither fame nor wealth. Scott never held a No. 1 world ranking, never set a world record. A member of three U.S. Olympic teams (including the 1980 squad that boycotted the Moscow Games) in the 1,500 meters, Scott had his best finish in an Olympic race in Seoul in 1988, when he was a disappointing fifth. "He has no Olympic medals," says longtime track official Bob Hersh. "Unfortunately, that's the currency."

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