SI Vault
Kenny Moore
February 14, 1977
A so-so miler, Duncan Macdonald, the son of a Hawaiian vulcanologist, has burst into prominence by breaking the U.S. 5,000 record and winning races from two miles up to the marathon
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February 14, 1977

Dormant No More, Duncan Is Erupting

A so-so miler, Duncan Macdonald, the son of a Hawaiian vulcanologist, has burst into prominence by breaking the U.S. 5,000 record and winning races from two miles up to the marathon

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"His tendon was holding together, and he was strong from those years of distance since the last Olympics," says Clark. "He just needed races." They were hard to find. "The meet directors were not really overjoyed to see him at the Fresno and Modesto Relays early last year. They remembered him as a miler."

At his own expense, Macdonald traveled to Eugene, Ore. in June for the Prefontaine Classic 5,000, still without any qualifying mark for the Olympic Trials. "He knew he wasn't fast enough for the 1,500," says Kardong. "The move up in distance had the look of desperation, but he felt ready for it." The trouble was getting into the race. Meet Director Wade Bell, the 1968 Olympic half-miler and a crusty sort, wanted Duncan to stick to the 1,500. But a friend on the infield managed to switch Macdonald's entry in the last half hour before the gun. As the race was in progress, Bell looked up and said, "Is that Macdonald in there?"

"Yep. Doing pretty well, too."

"He'd better."

Exchanging the lead with Paul Geis of the Oregon Track Club through the last mile and finishing second in 13:33.2, Macdonald cut his best time by nearly a minute, whipping, among others, Don Kardong.

In the Trials run on the same track, Macdonald laid a plan based on a miler's ability to sustain a hard pace for 2� laps. He ran easily with the favorite, Dick Buerkle, until they were well ahead of the field, clearly on their way to Montreal, and though he didn't need to, Macdonald burned the last 2� laps anyway, forcing Buerkle to a 13:26.6 win. Again Macdonald improved, to 13:29.6. "I couldn't believe that he was so casual before it all," a friend recalls. "On the track he seemed transformed from the mild, mischievous, funny guy I know. When it was over and he had made the team, someone threw a flower lei over his shoulders, and he was trotting around in a daze, totally unaware that the crowd was mad for him. He saw me by the fence and came over and said very directly, 'You had something to do with this. Thank you.' There was a shining gratification in his eyes. But later, away from the track, he was right back to normal, uncomfortable and silly under all the praise."

The praise has kept coming because Macdonald, running with ever greater assurance, has kept winning. Last December he won the Honolulu marathon from Boston champion Jack Fultz and 1,600 others in a personal best 2:20:32—this after a week of assisting in the delivery of babies. That meet was something of a reunion with Marshall Clark, whom he had not seen since before the Trials, and the coach made the most of it, planting a kiss on Macdonald's ear. "From all the old team," he said, perpetuating the endemic Stanford wackiness. Then, in the Sunkist Indoor meet's two-mile in Los Angeles three weeks ago, he easily handled Craig Virgin, Geis and Shorter.

A child of the islands, Macdonald has seldom considered leaving. To learn something of his feeling for the Hawaiian environment, one simply need tag along with him and Darby and their three white poi (mongrel) dogs as they hike a trail through a section of the lush Koolau Range, the spine of Oahu. On this bright day the northwesterly trade winds are driving chunky grey-bottom clouds over the cliffs. The trail curls through moist ravines covered with ginger and maidenhair fern. Thick-boled eucalypts give off a sinus-opening fragrance. Duncan walks quietly for a while, finally pronouncing "This is Hawaii!" over a place where guavas cover the trail with a pink, aromatic mush. Walking over the goo sends up clouds of fruit flies.

Darby, too, is a medical student, now some months ahead of Duncan because of his Olympic dawdling. Though Darby had gone to Punahou School in Honolulu, they met in medical school. "It was alphabetical," says Duncan, "but a fellow named Ed Mandac was under some sort of cloud and wasn't permitted to sit between Macdonald and Meyer. That's all it took."

Macdonald's mainland friends will try to make a case for his being secretive by saying he concealed his marriage for a year and a half. "Not really fair," he says. "I just don't write many letters." Because Darby kept her last name, it was a year before most of their class knew. "It's not the sort of thing you lead off a conversation with," she says, unconvincingly. "Duncan doesn't, anyway."

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