"I know," said Walker. "But once I make a commitment, I keep that commitment and run. I'll say this, though. If Eamonn Coghlan and rest ever want to beat me, it had better be tonight."
Had he been healthy, Walker would have led, if only to appease those who felt he hadn't displayed his full talent in the tactical Olympic final. Now he was grateful that the pack ignored Byron Dyce's early foot and passed the half mile in a leisurely 2:01.8. Seeking to save ground on the curves, Walker ran on the inside, but as Coghlan took the lead near the end of the third lap, the New Zealander was boxed by Liquori and Thomas Wessinghage of West Germany. It did not help that Walker also stepped on the yellow metal curb that separated the runners from the shorter inside lanes. He took a couple of steps near the curb to steady himself before regaining the track. As he did, he brushed Liquori, who interpreted the contact as a request to move out and ignored it. Going into the first turn of the final lap Walker dropped back slightly and gestured to Wessinghage to give him a little room. Wessinghage did, and Walker moved to the outside, catching Liquori's spike on his knee. The American pitched off balance, taking Wessinghage down as well with a wholly unintentional cross body block.
"My first thought was that I'd tripped Walker," said Liquori later. "I thought 'Oh no, I've ruined the race.' " But the only ruin was his own and Wessinghage's chances, as Walker stayed on his feet, got by Olympic 1,500-meter bronze medalist Paul-Heinz Wellmann of West Germany on the final turn and won by two feet in 3:56.2. Another yard back in third was Kiwi Rod Dixon. Liquori, who missed both the Montreal and Munich Olympics with injuries, was once again the victim of miserable luck. But asked if at any time he thought he could win the race, he answered quickly, "No."
After the race Walker walked with Liquori to a party on the Penn campus. "People like to see one or two athletes fall," said Walker lightly. "It puts some character into a race." Liquori flashed a small smile of forgiveness. As they came to a low brick wall beside the stadium entrance, they saw Dwight Stones in a pool of lamplight, still in his sweatsuit, patiently giving autographs, ruffling his hair into place to pose for snapshots, accepting long kisses from shapely admirers.
The milers passed on and Stones continued, biting his lower lip in concentration as he signed one last T shirt. "Are we all done?" he said into the darkness as the fans drifted away. "In the last four days I've learned a lot. I can't escape the feeling that there was a reason why it rained on my parade in Montreal. It's inner, personal, emotional. I can't explain it." Stones' face was full of the yearning of a willful man to have everything go right. It didn't, once, but though an untimely rain may have diminished the historian's view of his career, it had not changed the man at all.