Pat Porter lifts his greedy gaze from a buttered cinnamon roll the size of a footstool and cranes to look around the Campus Cafe in Alamosa, Colo. He has just been asked how many of the room's 23 breakfasters he knows. "All of 'em, I think," he says. "Except those girls."
Two Adams State coeds in the next booth eat in studied, almost regal ignorance of Porter's expectant glances. In this they are alone. He's got the rest of the café in a festive mood. The Garrisons of Garrison Fence Co. drop by the table. "Congratulations on how you did down there in Waco," they say.
"Just lucky," says Porter, in neighborly understatement. What he had done was win the senior men's 12,000-meter U.S. trials for the world cross-country championships, to be held March 23 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. With two miles to go, he had surged away from TAC 10,000-meter champion Bruce Bickford and had won by 12 seconds.
Porter already had made the U.S. team by winning, for the fourth year in a row, the TAC cross-country championships last November. He ran the Waco trials simply as a tune-up over sod, and the fitness he revealed makes him the strongest U.S. entry in the world championships since Craig Virgin unexpectedly won the worlds in 1980 and repeated in '81.
Porter has no real weaknesses. "Except getting a date in Alamosa," he says in the direction of the two blonde coeds, whose ears have turned to stone.
On the track, Porter was the only U.S. finalist in the 1984 Olympic 10,000, and finished a close second to Ethiopia's Wodajo Bulti in the World Cup 10,000 last October. But it is over rough, hilly, sloppy courses that his stride and wind and nature move him far out in the lead.
His four TAC victories were achieved with searing sprints from the start. Then, when close pursuers began to stagger and weave, Porter carried on. He does not seek the relative ease of tactical victory, of merely outsprinting a weaker man. He displays the full extent of his superiority. "As nice a guy as he may be the rest of the time," says a former Athletics West teammate, Sue Addison, "in a race, well...he changes." Her tone contains both respect and warning.
"Yeah, I'm pretty nasty the day of the race," Porter says. "I holler. I get aggressive. But let's take note of the sweetheart I am on all the non-race days."
That's fair, because Porter has an uncommon number of non-race days. He runs cross-country in the fall and winter, and track in the spring, but goes easy on the indoor meets and road events. This is a rare practice in the current endless season of big-money road racing.
"It combines what I'm good at and what will make for a longer, better career," says Porter. "I like cross-country. Most guys hate it. By contrast, I hate indoors. I don't do it well, and I get beat on. My stride is too long for the tight turns." He is being modest again. In Albuquerque's indoor two-mile in January Porter gave TAC indoor 5,000-meter champion Doug Padilla, a splendid finisher, all he could handle in the last lap.