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The day of the meet, Debbie Heald awoke with the hope that she would run a 4:42 or a 4:44; her personal best was 4:47. "The 4:42 is my realistic dream," she explained,' 'but you also have to have an outside dream. This time mine is a 4:40. I'd love that."
For breakfast she had a waffle, a race-day superstition. Then she slipped on her lucky T shirt, put on her lucky low-cut golf socks with blue and yellow fuzzy balls, and set off to test her dreams. "I feel sorry for Doris Brown," she said. "She must be under a lot of pressure to win. She's our best miler and people expect it. Me, they can't expect much of and so I've got nothing to lose, have I?"
If there was any pressure, Doris Brown, a 29-year-old phys-ed teacher at Seattle Pacific College and five-time winner of the international cross-country championship, was handling it. Long ago she decided she would run against people, not nations or ideologies or causes. "To a lot of people we have to beat the Russians. But, really, this meet is only a chance for some very fine competition against friends. People come up and say 'Good luck. Beat those Russians. Go get 'em.' I feel hypocritical always saying 'Yes. Thank you.' Sometimes I feel like saying, 'Hey, look, they're people too, just like you. Why make something else out of it?' "
"Yeah, they're people," said Denise Wood, a 21-year-old shotputter, "but they are so much better than us. I know I'll get slaughtered."
Denise's personal best is 47'9�". Her opponents were Antonia Ivanova, who has a best of 62'1�" and Yelena Korableva, who has hit 57'10". Two nights before the meet Denise met Yelena at a banquet. "I was afraid to see them," she said. "I expected them to be real masculine and all. But Yelena, well, she's big, but she's very feminine. But I haven't seen Ivanova. Probably because I'm afraid to."
If Denise was avoiding the Russians, the Russians weren't avoiding the Americans. "Our Yelena Ringa told me she likes to watch the American girls because they are so much in fashion," said Yuri Darakhvelidze, a writer for Soviet-ski Sport. "They all dress so well. And all our men say, 'They are so young.' Our women don't say anything about that. They don't like that."
As expected, the U.S. girls jumped into an early lead. Patty Johnson won the hurdles in 7.4, an American indoor record, with Lacey O'Neal second in 7.5. Iris Davis and Martha Watson were one-two in the dash, both being timed in 6.6.
Coach Grant Dungee's prediction was fulfilled when Martha Watson won the long jump with an American indoor record leap of 21'�". That gave the U.S. girls a 13-point lead. Still, the public-address announcer sounded as though he were asking Marie Antoinette to approach the guillotine as he called the field for the 880. Up stepped Wendy Koenig of Estes Park, Colo., and Carol Hudson, a pair of nervous 16-year-olds. "You can do it," Wendy said to herself. "Don't worry. They're just nice people. It's O.K. No problem."
Then the gun went off. Two minutes and 11 seconds later Wendy broke the tape, with the Russians still en route and Carol in between them. As she finished, Wendy thought,' 'No way. I didn't really do it. Oh, wow!"
Momentarily stunned, the Russians turned to their mile ace, Tamara Pangelova, to get them moving. They set off, with Pangelova taking charge, Doris Brown second, Braghina third and Debbie Heald fourth. They did the quarter in 0:67. "Hey, that's good," thought Debbie. "But it doesn't feel that fast. I feel good." She felt so good she zipped around Braghina and then Doris, and that surprised her. "You're passing Doris," she thought. "You must be doing better than you thought." She started to think about finishing second. But with two laps to go, Doris powered past her and she thought, "Oh, well, it was fun while it lasted."