To be sure, Ovett, the indoor novice, was struggling. He had brought the wrong spikes. His lungs were congested from a cold. He was even surprised to find a staggered start for the race. He later felt others in the race may have moved out of their lanes too soon, thus allowing them to run several yards less than a mile. Running last, he fought to look at least respectable.
The race passed the quarter mile in 58.7 seconds and the half in 1:58.7. Fricker continued to lead, followed in tight Indian file by Flynn, Jose Abascal of Spain, Kip Cheruiyot of Kenya, O'Sullivan and Coghlan. "They're gonna book" predicted ex-Villanova middle-distance man Don Paige, watching from trackside.
Paige had coached O'Sullivan for a year with the Wildcats. "Marcus has the talent to become the next great miler," said Paige. "He has the good, small build [5'9" and 134 pounds, compared with 5'10", 137 for Coghlan] that helps him run indoors. The day he finally convinces himself that he's really one of the big boys in the event, the others better watch out, because I think he'll destroy them all.
"But Eamonn," added Paige, "wants this race so bad...."
With three laps to go, Fricker dropped back, setting off a chain reaction. Within a lap O'Sullivan and Coghlan moved into third and fourth, closing on Abascal and Flynn. With a lap and a half remaining, O'Sullivan shot wide and went for the lead. Coghlan pursued. The crowd was up.
They caught the final-lap gun one-two, O'Sullivan first, then Coghlan. O'Sullivan wasn't sure he liked being the one in front. "I had no idea where Eamonn was," he said later. "When we got to the last backstretch, I heard the crowd get louder. I knew what was coming. It could only be one man."
It was Coghlan, charging. "I felt it in training the last couple of weeks," the Chairman of the Boards said later. "That quick acceleration"—Coghlan snapped his fingers—"was there. I had no doubts whatsoever that I could go past anybody."
And so he did, blasting by O'Sullivan with 80 yards to go and never looking back. With both fists raised, he broke the tape in 3:55.91, well ahead of O'Sullivan (3:56.49) and Abascal (3:56.90). Ovett came through eighth, in 4:14.52, and called it "my worst performance ever in the mile.
"Eamonn has found his own little niche," said Ovett with what seemed like more than a hint of belittlement. "He trains all year for the American indoor season and he's very good at it."
"Before this, Steve Ovett probably looked upon the indoor season as kind of a joke," replied Coghlan with a grin. "But tonight the joke was on him."