SI Vault
Kenny Moore
April 02, 1973
The painted stripe that guided Olympic marathoners through the streets and parks of Munich led the author to old agonies, new conclusions
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April 02, 1973

The Long Blue Line: A Rerun

The painted stripe that guided Olympic marathoners through the streets and parks of Munich led the author to old agonies, new conclusions

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When Jim Ryun fell in his 1,500-meter heat, people said to me, "For God's sake, be careful in the marathon." I explained that marathoners are gentlemen compared to milers. The race sorts us out perfectly well. We don't have to hit each other.

Save for the two walks the marathon is the only race in the Olympics for which no qualifying time is required. Every country has the right to enter three men. If an eccentric Argentine or Ceylonese is determined to be an Olympian, and can pay his own way, he can run. Or, to put it more accurately, he can start.

So as we swept through the marathon gate and headed out on the roads the pack included stumpy little men struggling even then to hold their positions. They jockeyed incessantly. They bunched too tightly toward the inside on curves. They ran like milers, and a few hundred yards after leaving the stadium I was caught in a jam on a corner and tripped. I curled into a ball on the warm asphalt until an opening appeared in the slapping feet and was up quickly, with a stinging elbow and knee, a sore calf and a 30-yard deficit. As we flooded over the cobblestones of the Press Village and set out on wide, unshaded thoroughfares between cement factories and apartment houses, I told myself to relax, to harbor the surge of aggressiveness I was feeling. An electric bus with a revolving red light led us between rows of applauding spectators. I let the leaders draw 50 yards ahead and tried to take myself to a more natural, peaceful setting.

U.S. distance runners prepared for Munich in bucolic near-isolation. We were a week on a piney, stony peninsula near Brunswick, Maine, and spent 20 days exploring the blueberry-strewn forest above Oslo, Norway. That city maintains miles of trails for cross-country skiing in winter and hiking in summer. We ran upon them daily, peering into the trees after moose, marveling at rushing cataracts and the way Norwegian families push baby carriages on 14-mile hikes.

We were equally struck by the garrulity of our own Doug Brown, a steeplechaser who had just completed his sophomore year at Tennessee. Brown must have been a hyperkinetic child, for he is now a hyperkinetic post-adolescent. As we ran, his stream of consciousness mingled with the waterfalls: "Thunderbolt, that's what we're seeing tonight. Love James Bond. All those gimmicks. I'm not grown up yet. Fat? I'm not fat. One hundred and fifty-two pounds. Of course, I eat a lot of dinner. I never make it to breakfast. That's my schedule. I go out a lot at night. I figure eight or nine hours sleep is eight or nine hours worth, no matter when you get it. So I sleep from two to 11. Never go to morning classes. Sure rains a lot here. Like Oregon. This is supposed to be summer. What's everybody acting so tired for? This is Sunday. The first day of the week. You're supposed to be chipper...."

One afternoon, jogging back from the stadium, Brown and Jeff Galloway, a 10,000-meter runner, noticed a yard containing a stately cherry tree burdened with fruit. Later, under cover of darkness, they returned.

Brown gave this account: "It was a big house, two cars, nice furniture, so let's face it, it wasn't like we were taking cherries from the mouths of starving babies. Besides, we decided to concentrate on just one branch. Or at least I did, because Galloway said I should go into the yard and pick while he kept a lookout on the sidewalk. So, great steeplechaser that I am, I jumped over the fence and fell down. I finally got under the tree, whipped out my sack and went to work. Every so often Jeff would whisper someone was coming and I'd hit the ground. I was ready to run every time, I tell you. Finally I had enough for a snack, about four pounds, so I quit, cleared the fence and we started ambling home.

"Pretty soon this Politzei car comes rolling along slow and they call us over. They were great, spoke good English. We got to talking, told 'em we were on the U.S. Olympic team. To be friendly I offered 'em some cherries. They looked at the sack and back at the yard where I'd been, and then they started talking Norwegian to each other. Finally they said, 'Get in.' I was on the verge of taking off when I felt Jeff's hand on my back. I got the idea he didn't want me to run, so we got in. They took us to the front of the house and I—Galloway made it very clear who had been doing the picking—had to go up to the door.

"A nice man came out when I knocked and I told him how I was on the U.S. Olympic team and that I admired Norway and Oslo and particularly his cherries so much that I'd picked some without permission and I was sorry. He said that was all right, it happened all the time, and if I would come to the house after this and ask, I could pick all the cherries I wanted. I mean, let's face it, he was really nice. So the Politzei were happy and Jeff and I got home with our cherries and you know what, these Norwegian cherries, my Lord, are they sour!"

Six miles from the start we entered Nymphenburg. The marathon course was conceived by Willi Daume, head of the Olympic Organizing Committee, with an eye to scenery. The painted blue line marking the route wound past most of the notable Munich landmarks and through the city's two large parks, Nymphenburg and the English Garden. When a number of countries protested the eight miles of loose gravel or dirt in these stretches (IAAF rules require marathons to be run on pavement), the committee said the paths would be swept and covered with a "special plastic." The yellow dust that now rose behind the bus was testimony to that promise broken. Our eyes filled with grit. There also was profanity in the air, much of it Frank Shorter's, and eventually the bus turned aside.

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