Great milers seem to arise in odd couples, but this is the oddest. Steve Cram, 25, the mile record holder at 3:46.32, is British, cool and loose. Said Aouita, 19 days younger, the 1,500-meter record holder at 3:29.46, is Moroccan, passionate and absolutist.
Cram is tall, Aouita (pronounced ahooEEta) short. Cram is matter-of-fact, Aouita prideful. Cram is open about his training, or lack of it. Aouita is obsessively secretive.
Cram is Anglican. Aouita is a Muslim who prays five times a day. Cram stands in line to buy tickets to a soccer match. Aouita insists on star prerogatives. Cram enjoys an evening out with friends. Aouita is a loner. Cram is conservative with money. Aouita buys cars and houses like a tennis player.
Cram leans toward the gently routine. Aouita is nomadic. Cram has a sweetheart of a coach. Aouita has only a Machiavellian agent, and he doesn't listen to him much.
And that's just the superficial stuff.
Last year, in a 20-day stretch from July 16 to Aug. 4, Cram broke world records at 1,500 meters (3:29.67), the mile (3:46.32) and 2,000 meters (4:51.39). In the 1,500, at Nice, he beat Aouita by sprinting early in the last lap. Holding on against the African's closing rush, he won by a foot.
Later Aouita went on a tear of his own. In Oslo he became the fastest ever at 5,000 meters (13:00.40), the event he won in the L.A. Olympics. In Berlin, he cut the 1,500 to his 3:29.46. Before they could meet again, both had their seasons ended by hamstring injuries.
They plan a single race at the mile this year, in Oslo on July 5. They are preparing now, each in his own way.
As a boy, Said Aouita sold watermelon seeds in the torrid streets of Fez. He was born the eldest son of a paper-mill worker in K�nitra, Morocco, north of Rabat. When Aouita was about eight, his father lost his job in K�nitra and, with his wife and six children, moved to Fez.
There they lived in two rooms at No. 48 Derb Bouitril, in Fez Djedid. This is New Fez, which dates from the 13th century. To find the house, a visitor is led by eager boys through a dusty maze of narrow, dark, discouraging streets. One sympathizes with a young Aouita's claustrophobia.