Now his weekends are always the same. The towns are different and so are the arenas, but the monkey is always there. It appeared last month in Philadelphia, at Convention Hall. He is warming up backstage, doing stretch exercises, his right leg hooked over the back of a chair, the head going back, then down to the left knee. His lips are pulled tight. A friend walks up. "Congratulations," he says. "I hear you were just named the top miler in the country."
Marty Liquori grimaces. "In the world," he says.
In front of him is a pool of vomit, the price of someone else's overexpenditure or lack of preparation. It is a dismal setting: garbage in the corners, dirty floor, scarred bricks, great lengths of rope hanging ominously from the rafters, as if waiting for those who fail.
"How ya doin'?" someone asks.
"Just standing here brickin' it," Liquori says.
A grin. "I really didn't want this to be a big race. But now I'm standing here, my pulse's fluttering, my heart's jumping, and I think I just swallowed 25 butterflies."
"It's going to be like this from now on," the friend says.
"Yeah," Liquori says. He shakes his head. "I can't take any races lightly like I used to. I guess the monkey's on my back now. But why?"
The why—and the monkey—came seven months before, on an overcast day at the NCAA track and field championships in Knoxville, Tenn. when Marty Liquori, until then just another promising young miler from Villanova, looked over his right shoulder and saw 10 yards of Tartan track between him and the runner in the powder-blue jersey and pink pants who had dogged his footsteps for 300 yards. Liquori turned, raised his fists, shouted an imprecation, broke into a smile and became the first American in four years to beat Jim Ryun in a mile race.