"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
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
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
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.
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.