If you will recall last week's opening chapter, those traveling Kenya cops, Chief Inspector Kipchoge Keino and his faithful corporal, Naftali Bon, were subdued in a series of misadventures in Los Angeles. Keino had been a 10th of a second too slow in the mile; Bon had been well beaten in the 1,000. But no matter. There is an old Kenyan proverb that says that if you lose one footrace in L.A. there is always another to be run in Philadelphia. And so, after a quick trip to Disneyland and another to Hollywood to meet Raymond Burr, the pair packed their suitcases, said so long to smog and headed East for last Saturday night's Philadelphia Track Classic.
For Keino it would be a duel in the mile with Marty Liquori, America's top middle-distance runner now that Jim Ryun is taking a sabbatical, and a chance to buy a pair of semi-mod brown slacks. The Olympic 1,500-meter champion wanted bell-bottoms, but Aish Jeneby, the 240-pound Kenya deputy sports officer, told him to forget it. "He wanted to be Kenya's first hippie," said Jeneby, shaking his head. For Bon it would be another go at the terrors of running indoors, and Jeneby was wondering how to tell him the track in Philadelphia was even more difficult than the one that had panicked him in Los Angeles.
"You see," Jeneby finally said on Thursday afternoon, "the track here is 12 laps to the mile." Bon cocked his head in puzzlement. "Well, the one in Los Angeles was 11 laps to the mile," Jeneby continued. "That means that the track here is shorter, the turns are tighter, the banks are higher." Bon did not look at all happy.
Keino looked at Bon and laughed. "Don't worry," Keino said. "Tomorrow we'll go out and practice on the track. There's nothing to worry about."
Out at Villanova, Andy O'Reilly, one of Bon's rivals in the half mile, was laughing, too. "If Bon thinks he had trouble in Los Angeles, wait until he gets on the track here. Those banks will drive him crazy. I ran a 52 quarter the other day and I couldn't hold the turns. Bon will run right off the track."
The Kenyans took their first look at the track Friday afternoon. At first glance it looked like an HO model of the Daytona Speedway. The turns are brutally tight and sharply banked, and Keino was already twice around the track before Bon could bring himself to step on the well-scarred boards. "Come on," shouted Keino, flashing easily into a turn. Bon began a slow trot. "Indoor track is different," said Jeneby. "It's not even the same sport. But it doesn't seem to bother Kip. Listen to his feet. Tap, tap, tap. He runs with such a light touch." Bon came running past. Thump, thump, thump. "Bon does not run with a light touch," said Jeneby.
While Bon was thinking about the track, Liquori was out at Villanova thinking about Keino. Liquori had been scheduled to fly to Columbus, Ohio on Friday night to accept an award, but at the last minute he had been talked out of it by Jumbo Elliott, his coach. Last summer, feeling he wouldn't have much competition in the Classic mile, he had agreed to make the trip; he could fly back Saturday for an easy race.
Liquori didn't find out about having to run against Keino until a few weeks before the race. He cornered Elliott. "Oh," said Jumbo, "I guess I forgot to mention it. Don't worry, you'll kill him."
"Yeah, sure," said Liquori, "and on a track I hate."
"No, no," said Elliott. "You love this track."