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The Olympic marathoners, 69 skittish, prancing men, were called into the tunnel that led from the practice track to the stadium. I said goodby to my wife and the coaches. Stan Wright, our sprint coach, sat with his back against a post, watching his 400-meter relay team warm up. It was Wright who had accepted the blame for two of our 100-meter men having failed to get to the stadium in time for their heats.
"One more day," he said, "and it's all over."
Flippantly I said, "No it's not. Life goes on."
He looked straight at me. "That's what I'm living for. Life has to go on."
In the tunnel I saw Ron Hill, the renowned English marathoner. His drooping mustache was gone, as was most of his hair, and he was conspicuously tanned from training close to the sun in the Swiss Alps. Ron is a textile chemist and occasionally seems possessed by the scientific method. Here in Munich he had dressed to reflect as much heat as possible. His shoes and shorts were coated with silver. His shirt was made of glittering mesh. The Union Jack on his chest seemed to be done in sequins.
An official assigned us lanes and rows. Hill and I were in the front, flanking Derek Clayton of Australia, who has run the world's fastest marathon. Clayton stared out at an angle somewhat above the rim of the stadium. As if savoring every aspect of the moment, he drew in deep breaths through his prominent nose, closing his eyes as he exhaled. "It's finally here," he whispered. "It's all come to this."
Hill seemed vexed, complaining about the warm weather, the course, the time it took to place us on our marks.
"Hey, take it easy," I said.
He snapped at me. "Certainly, when we've had two death threats from the IRA."
The starter's gun went off and conversation ceased. We circled the track twice at a moderate pace. I drifted toward the center of the pack, picking out the experienced marathoners I had met before. Jack Foster and Dave McKenzie stood out in the all-black of New Zealand. Fragile Mamo Wolde, the defending champion, wore Ethiopian green, Seppo Nikkari the pale blue of Finland. Akio Usami of Japan, who had calmly removed all his clothes in the warmup area, was in white from shoes to headband.