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On the crucial question of tactics, Walker meant to be mean. "Coghlan doesn't contribute anything to the race by sitting and kicking," he said. "If I can get a 10-yard break on him late in the race, he'll never catch me." But Walker sensed his racing condition ebbing. "So much travel and so little training," he said. "I got away with it in New York last week. I only have to get away with it one more time." In midrace, then, Walker would lead.
Wilson Waigwa would surely follow. The shy senior economics major from the University of Texas at El Paso by way of Nairobi always has, and in big races he has become a common sight, drifting early, then blasting through the last laps like a quartermiler, only to fall a yard or two short at the finish. The week before he had run in three events in the WAC conference meet (he won the mile in 4:08.4, the two-mile in 8:45.7 and anchored UTEP's winning distance medley relay team) and admitted to some fatigue. But at least one friend, fellow Kenyan Mike Boit, who won the 1,000 at San Diego in 2:05.5, the fastest time ever on an 11-lap track, saw something approaching resolve in his normally casual countryman. "We were walking around," said Boit, "and heard it said that Walker planned to run 3:53. Wilson said very softly, 'I will be with him.' "
Paul Cummings also was modifying his strategy. A month ago he had won the Sunkist Games mile in 3:59.2 wearing flats, but for this race he was changing to spikes. "It could be slow," Cummings said an hour before the start. "There are lots of guys who don't lead, and Walker not wanting Coghlan to beat him could change things. Walker could get out there with half to go but he'll save a little. I probably won't be helping anyone out the first quarter." After that Cummings would clearly keep his eyes open.
So would Steve Scott, a 20-year-old junior at California Irvine, who hoped he would be somewhere. Last season the converted half-miler from Upland, Calif, served as the rabbit in the Sunkist Invitational mile, finishing in 4:16. Adapting to the new distance outdoors he ran a 4:03.5 and a 3:40.4 1,500 and in this year's Sunkist had a personal best of 3:59.7. Like the rest of the field, Scott seemed to have neither the finish of Coghlan nor the strength of Walker. His only chance, he reasoned, was to seek a moment, and if it came, to seize it.
While Scott waited for the start of his race, he watched Rosalyn Bryant, wearing funny orange socks and a pensive gaze, set a world record of 1:03.3 in the women's 500-yard run, her third world record of the year, bringing her total to five at distances from 220 yards to 500 meters. For that she rightly got the outstanding performer trophy, but the sellout crowd may be forgiven if it howled loudest during the mile.
Scott's teammate, John Koningh, was the rabbit, taking the lead off the first turn and hitting the quarter in 58.3. Walker in second allowed a few yards to open before him, and Coghlan moved to Walker's shoulder. Before the half, Walker pulled up on the tiring Koningh, and the others watched him intently. "John didn't look very confident," said Graham Crouch, the Melbourne accountant and Australian 1,500-meter champion then running in fourth place.
The half was 1:59.6, and Koningh swayed wide and quit. Walker ran into the lead. After a lap it was clear that he had decided he couldn't surge away. He slowed and drifted wide. Coghlan suddenly found himself in front. With an expression of shocked distaste he too eased. The pack bunched up, bringing Waigwa, who was running last, to within a few yards of Coghlan in first. At that moment perhaps every runner but the poorly conditioned Walker had a chance to win had he moved. It was Scott who took the moment, accelerating with a vengeance while the others, slow to react, let him go. With four of the 11 laps left, Scott had 15 yards on Paul Cummings, with Waigwa third. Scott hit the three-quarter mile in three minutes.
Gradually the pack coalesced, but the leaders were steaming now and Walker and Coghlan, running fourth and fifth, were too far back. Scott looked strong with a lap to go, but Waigwa was into second and burning. He shot past Scott on the backstretch and sailed home in 3:55.7, the third-fastest time to Tony Waldrop's 3:55.0 indoor world record, which was set on this track in 1974. Scott cut 3.2 seconds from his best with 3:56.5. Coghlan was third in 3:57.9, Cummings fourth in 3:58.2 and Walker fifth in 3:59.2, more men under four minutes than in any indoor race ever.
"I felt heat in my chest," said Waigwa, pressing his hand over his sternum, and it was unclear whether he meant pain or passion. Perhaps some of each. Saying, "I just wanted to finish fast—and first," he implied that he has had enough of kicking too late.
"Waigwa really deserved it," said Coghlan. "He's had so many great seconds and thirds in wonderful times."