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"I had two things I really wanted this year," said Robinson, who had been favored in Munich, but placed third. "The gold and 28 feet. I can cross the one off, the gold, but it's not as if I'd beaten the whole world. The Africans—Josh Owusu of Ghana, Charlton Ehizuelen of Nigeria—are fine jumpers. It's sad. You don't know what might have happened. One of them might have gone 27'7", forcing me to go 28. I'm happy to win, but it's a quiet kind of satisfaction."
All of France rejoiced when Guy Drut, "running like a tiger," as he put it, clawed his way to victory in the 110-meter hurdles, inches ahead of Cuba's Alejandro Casanas, 13.30 to 13.33. Third, in 13.38, was 33-year-old Willie Davenport, the 1968 champion who had finished fourth in Munich. Pressed by newsmen, Davenport said, "Yes, dammit, I tried as hard as I could to keep the U.S. string from going down [the last non-American winner was Syd Atkinson of South Africa in 1928], but I am not disappointed. I'm happier than an s.o.b. just to be here, gentlemen, because I am old." Charles Foster of the U.S., who was co-favored with Drut, hit the first two hurdles and could not quite catch up.
A woman of Davenport's age-group was the meet's most elegant winner. Irena Szewinska of Poland, the 30-year-old economist and mother, owner of six medals from 1964 on, arrived at the homestretch of the 400 with two yards on the field and flew away to win by 12 in a world record 49.29, running so smoothly she was going faster after crossing the finish line than her competition was running to reach it. Rosalyn Bryant of Chicago set an American record (50.62), the fourth time it was improved in two days, Sheila Ingram and Debra Sapenter holding it about as long as it took to call home. Bryant was the best of the three Americans in the final, finishing fifth. Two days later she burned a 49.7 relay anchor leg to get the U.S. a silver medal behind the East German world record of 3:19.23.
The men's relays were relatively easy wins for the U.S., although the semifinal of the 4 x 100 relay was nearly a disaster on the scale of the Munich no-shows for the 100. Harvey Glance and Millard Hampton arrived in plenty of time, but they had left their spikes out on the practice track. From his bag Steve Riddick produced some spares, and the team was able to run—Hampton, who has size 9 feet, swimming through the second turn in Riddick's size 11 shoes. In the final the American sprinters gained ground on the last two legs, where they passed well and won in a fine 38.33. The United States 4 x 400 team of Frazier (45.2), Benny Brown (44.7), Newhouse (43.9) and Maxie Parks (45.0) beat Poland by 20 meters for the gold medal in 2:58.65.
In the 10,000 it was startling to see the finalists prancing on the starting line, their multicolored shoes reminding one of exotic jungle fowl, and to see no African runners. Had there been a Miruts Yifter or Mohamed Gammoudi in the field, the early pace would have been far faster than the conservative 14:09 for 5,000 set by Mark Smet of Belgium and a few others, as the pack shifted constantly. Just before halfway Carlos Lopes of Portugal, Europe's latest distance find, eased into the lead and ever so gradually began applying real pressure.
First he ran 67-second laps, then 66s, then 65s. With two miles to go, the race was coming apart at the seams. England's Brendan Foster and Finland's Viren hung with Lopes. Foster, who had had to fight his way back onto the track past security after a quick trip to the lavatory moments before the race, seemed to be laboring. Viren, as always, was cool, unreadable, his stride unchanging, even as the pace increased. With a mile to go it was just Lopes and Viren, which meant it was Viren with all the cards, as the brave Lopes has little kick. Viren bolted past with a bit more than a lap to run, quickly gained five seconds, then looked back 13 times in the last 400 meters and finished in 27:40.38. Ten yards beyond the line he sank down, not in a swoon, but to untie his shoes—Japanese-made Tigers—and now he started on a barefoot victory lap, his shoes held high, countrymen carrying Finnish flags accompanying him. Because Viren, among other occupations, is the Tiger distributor for Finland, this cool behavior ought to have indicated his run was far less than all-out.
Nevertheless, when it came time for the 5,000 on Friday, the smart money was on Kiwis Rod Dixon and Theodonus Jacobus Leonardus (Dick) Quax, the fastest milers in the field. The race was a study in chances missed. Foster, who had set an Olympic record of 13:20.34 in his heat, led early and quickly. At six laps Viren surged into the lead and slowed abruptly, jamming the pack on his heels. No one passed him and for two laps he rested. Finally Foster, whose most effective tactic is a hard, race-breaking burst in the midst of a fast race, tore around Viren, but the pack had its wind back, and Foster couldn't break free. Klaus-Peter Hildenbrand took over; then, with two laps to go, Viren went to the front, with Dixon and Quax staying close.
For 800 meters Viren accelerated, having blunted Foster with a slow pace, now trying to kill the New Zealanders' kicks with a sustained drive. Off the last turn Viren, Hildenbrand and Quax were nearly abreast, with Dixon a yard back. Dixon has run 3:33.9 for 1,500 meters, Quax 3:36.7. Viren's best is a comparatively slow 3:41, yet incredibly, as he had done in Munich, he drew away from his pursuers in the stretch, winning in 13:24.76. Quax held second and Hildenbrand dived desperately across the line with perfect timing to take the bronze.
Like Juantorena, Viren had done something never achieved before, the five and 10 double in successive Olympics. In the interview room he was rather insufferably coy. When pressed to confirm or deny his use of "blood doping," or transfusions of his own blood to boost his cardiovascular efficiency before major races, he simply asked, wide-eyed, if such a thing were really possible. He is a man of seemingly endless mysteries—not the least of which is how he managed to spend nearly a year at BYU in 1970 without learning a single word of English. He said yes, he would attempt the marathon, and since he needed his rest for that, slipped quickly away.
And so Viren began the marathon, attempting what only Emil Zatopek had ever done, the Olympic distance triple. After a mile and a half he had taken up a stalking position directly behind Shorter, a few yards to the rear of the early leader, Bill Rodgers of the U.S. And there he loomed, staring at the back of Shorter's head, running with a furrowed brow, blue and white sweatbands on his wrists, adornments that must have grown soggy and heavy in the swirling rain. Past four miles, the leading group had dwindled to 15. Don Kardong, the third American, knowing of the difficult, hilly course to come, and the insidious effects of the 73� heat and 90% humidity, relaxed and dropped away.