But with 300 remaining, Aouita took off. He shed Maree, accelerated again in the last turn with his weirdly rakish sprint stride and fought his way toward the tape. The crowd screamed him on. He crossed the line, then slowed amid disappointed groans, none louder than his own. His 7:32.54 had missed by .44. He made a serious attempt at pulling out fistfuls of his own hair.
"Every year in Zurich I lose a world record by fractions," he said. (He had missed Steve Cram's mile record of 3:46.32 by .60 last year.) "I hope the rabbits eat and rest well until Sunday in Cologne. I may try again there."
First, though, he had a mile to run in Berlin, site of his 1,500 record of 3:29.46 last year. And again he had rabbit problems. He wanted quarter- and half-mile splits of 56.0 and 1:54. Wild to please, Omar Khalifa of Sudan and Abdi Bile of Somalia gave him 54.0 and 1:51.1. By then he knew it was hopelessly fast, and he let them go far ahead, to die of oxygen debt as he would have done himself if he had stubbornly gone with them. He won in a creditable 3:50.33. "I won't promise a world record in Cologne," he snapped. "I'm not a robot."
No, indeed he isn't, but he sure makes you wonder. His 3,000 at Cologne, in 7:32.23, was faster than at Zurich, only .13 of a second off Rono's record. After sensible pacing, Aouita's time with a lap to go was 6:35.4. He needed 56.7 for the record, but could produce only a 56.83. Then, in a moment of genuine appreciation, he said, "I think that Rono did something special in the 3,000. It's not possible. I thought it would be easy, but it's not easy."
Aouita wasn't the only one recovering from ailments. There were sick and injured guys all over the track in Zurich. Sebastian Coe, convalescing from a flu bug that had knocked him out of an 800 and 1,500 confrontation with Steve Cram in the Commonwealth Games, ran a controlled 1,500, positioning himself to kick as late as possible. When he hit the front there were a scant 80 meters left.
Then here came Steve Scott. He, too, was unwell. "I threw up in London," he said, "and spent all day yesterday in bed. I ran mainly to clean out my system. I figured whatever happened, I had an excuse." He didn't need one, just a way through traffic. "I tried to box Coe on the backstretch, but he got out. I ran on the inside around the last turn, figuring the guy in front of me would drift out enough in the stretch for me to come up the inside." The guy was Spain's Jose Abascal, the Olympic bronze medalist, and he drifted nowhere, so Scott had to slow and move out to the third lane before he could kick. "With 30 to go, I thought I just might get up there."
Coe tightened, and Scott shot ahead to win by a sudden yard, 3:35.14 to 3:35.22. Coe, obviously shocked, finally allowed that the race was a step on the way back to full health, which he will need in a week, when he runs against Cram at the European championships.
Meanwhile, the oldest campaigner, or grandest, Edwin Moses, reigned on. He had won his 100th consecutive 400-meter-hurdle final since 1977 the previous Monday in Budapest, with 47.76. Then, when Andre Phillips, back from a stress fracture, ran 47.69 in Zurich, the meeting of the two hurdlers in Berlin gleamed with promise. But Phillips withdrew at the last hour saying he was too tired. Moses ran the year's fastest time, 47.53, but he had had hopes of nearing his 47.02 world record.
"They always say I duck them, but where are they at the height of the season?" said Moses. "I need the competition to go faster."
Carl Lewis showed up in Zurich to race his archrival, Ben Johnson of Canada, with a bum left knee. "Tendinitis," Lewis said. "This is a test." Nothing less than perfection would do against Johnson, who beat Lewis in May and again in Moscow in July. His 9.95 in the Goodwill Games was the fastest ever run without the aid of altitude.