"I was afraid to look," said Eyestone.
Taking turns in the lead, they stretched their margin. Barring catastrophe, they were Olympians. That left one spot. At 21 miles Curp appeared to have secured it. Pfitzinger was in fourth place, while Gompers, who seemed to have finally burned out, was fifth and fading. But over the next two miles Gompers somehow revived, passed Pfitzinger and caught Curp. For 500 yards Curp stayed with the nailing Gompers, while Pfitzinger watched them from behind. Finally Curp surrendered and fell away. Gompers was on the team if he could hold third.
But he had to hold it against the old fox, Pfitzinger, who still seemed to be restraining himself, letting Gompers pay for his early charges. Slowly Pfitzinger crept up to Gompers's shoulder. Getting no response to his threat, Pfitzinger hung there.
Gompers knew who stalked him. Pfitzinger lives in Wellesley, Mass., not far from Harvard, and his canniness is legend. He stole the 1984 trials by bolting out early and outkicking Alberto Salazar for the win. Now all his craft was devoted to coming in third. Pfitzinger began stoking his emotions for the battle, but it never materialized. Gompers was so exhausted that at 23� miles he swung wide around a turn, sagged and slowed. Pfitzinger, almost before he realized it, had 15 yards on Gompers.
About 150 yards ahead, Eyestone and Conover were still together, and observers' thoughts turned to how they would divide the prize money. "The money didn't enter my mind," said Eyestone afterward, happily insistent on the primacy of his Olympic motives. Nonetheless, he's a strong kicker.
"But with two miles to go," said Eyestone, "right when I began thinking about a move in the last half mile, a pain speared up my left hamstring into my butt." He slowed to ward off a killing cramp, and Conover romped to victory in 2:12:26. Eyestone was 23 seconds back in second. Pfitzinger crossed the line next. He was in tears because he had added a second Olympic berth to his storied career.
Finishing fourth was Gompers, the man upon whom the suffering descends. "When Pfitzinger went by, it was everything tightening, it was realizing you're not going to be there, it was the ultimate depression," he said. Yet he was unbowed. "One of these days," he added, with a front-runner's eternal defiance, "I'll get out front and I won't come back."
Conover, Eyestone and Pfitzinger. They are the three men the U.S. will send to Seoul in five months. Their wind-slowed times will make them underdogs to splendid Japanese and African marathoners, but they pledged to use their prize money to assist in their preparations. Here's to hearing of them again. After all, as Conover said, "Maybe my lack of experience will come through once more."