Steve Cram was stuck. there were 250 yards to go in the Bislett Games Dream Mile Saturday night in Oslo, and Cram, the Englishman who's the world record-holder at this distance, was boxed against the rail in sixth place. What's more, 1,500-meter world champion Abdi Bile of Somalia had just sailed by on the outside, free as a bird, beginning his kick.
"I wasn't sure what to do," Cram said later. "In front of me, [Joseph] Chesire and [Steve] Crabb were slowing. I'd never catch Bile if I went around them." So he went through them. "There was just enough room to push...well, not push, really, but elbow my way past on the inside."
Up ahead, Bile led around the turn but couldn't shake Peter Elliott of Britain and Jens-Peter Herold of East Germany. Cram, now fourth, saw the three leaders' backs forming a wall in front of him in the home stretch, and it didn't help that he knew why this had happened. "I was there because of indecision," he said. "Going in, I wanted to react, to learn how I'd fare in a 200-meter kick against Bile. But I hadn't reacted to all the other guys."
This was the first time Bile and Cram had raced since the World Championships in Rome last September. That 1,500 was the single crack in Cram's exemplary career as a major-face tactician. For five years he had won everything there was to win, save the 1984 Olympic gold medal in Los Angeles, where he had finished second behind countryman Sebastian Coe. Cram had been injured most of that year, so even silver had been unexpected.
Besides, Cram avenged that defeat at this meet in Oslo in 1985, whipping Coe and chopping the mile record to his still-standing 3:46.32. He did it by blasting over the last 200 in 25.4 seconds.
But in 1987 Cram was mysteriously inconsistent. "I wasn't ill, but I didn't have confidence in my kick," he said. "In the straight in Rome, when my chances of winning had gone, all the strength and application drained out of me." He had tottered in, spent, a shocking eighth. Then he passed a winter in the company of acid doubts.
"I'm 27. I've been at the top for five or six years," he said. "You wonder if it's still there. I needed this race more than some of the others needed it."
A rabbit, James Mays of the U.S., hopped out to ambitious splits of 55.28 for the 440 and 1:54.47 for the 880, but all the good guys ignored him. Dead last after a lap and a half was Bile, just beside Steve Scott of the U.S. Cram was eighth. The rabbits—Paul Larkins of Great Britain served that role, too—had been the promoters' idea. "I didn't know anyone who'd go with the pacemakers," said Cram. "I sure wasn't going to."
That was because there are still nearly three months until the Olympics in Seoul. As fervently as European meet directors may wish for a Bactrian season, with one hump now and another in September, it's not going to work that way. "When the Olympics come round, everyone will have forgotten who won this race," said Cram before the Bislett mile.
Yet there is one person who, come Seoul, may well look back on Oslo as a revelation. Eamonn Martin, 29, a former British cross-country champion, had never run 10,000 meters on the track. He dealt with the fast pace in his debut a lap at a time, gaining confidence as the race went on, and ripped away from Salvatore Antibo of Italy and Arturo Barrios of Mexico to win in a stadium-and British-record 27:23.06. It was the best first 10,000 any runner has ever had and the sixth-fastest time in history.