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You know, all you do on these trips is talk about past trips," said Dave Bedford of England, nursing a glass of dark German beer the evening before last week's cross-country world championship. "Remember 1970 in Vichy? England won, naturally. We won every year from 1964 to 1972. But the celebration was the thing."
Since the statute of limitations has expired, Bedford, the 10,000-meter world-record holder, felt free to reveal that Vichy's revelries included sending a borrowed Peugeot over a bridge into the river Allier. "Lovely evening that was," he sighed. Bedford finished 95th that year. The next, in San Sebasti�n, Spain, he won.
"This race has almost always been held in small towns like that," he continued. "Places like Waregem, Belgium and, last year, Chepstow, Wales. It is always a week of seeing old enemies, a hard run and the year's best bash after."
Now, however, the world championship had come to D�sseldorf, the mink-and-Mercedes-rich capital of the Ruhr. The city's main promenade, the K�nigsallee, was so elegantly jammed with expensive art, porcelain and antiques that the American men's team wandered down it intimidated, without entering a single store. "Where's the farmer's market?" asked Stanford's Tony Sandoval. "Where are the little crooked streets and cheap shops?" He looked in vain, even for members of other teams, who were scattered among the city's hotels. "It's become more of a pure athletic event," said Bedford. "It used to have a bit of gypsy character to it."
It may not be gypsy, but the world championship definitely remains continental. While U.S. runners go from cross-country to indoor meets or road races in December, Europeans plow ahead through the mud and chill of the winter, running ever longer and longer cross-country races. The season climaxes in late March at the world championship, over 12,300 meters (about 7? miles). In past years, U.S. men have fared dismally. The best performances came in 1975 in Rabat, Morocco when Bill Rodgers was third, and led the U.S. squad to a fourth-place finish.
In the junior race (for runners under 20), however, Americans have not lost either the team or individual titles since entering for the first time three years ago, indicating that our talent and high school training are superior to the rest of the world's. And U.S. women traditionally have been strong. Doris Brown Heritage won five world championships in as many years (1967-71) and Julie Brown won the title in 1975.
Both Brown and Heritage were on this year's squad, and Heritage, for one, grumbled at the disproportionate number of free tours and lavish dinners the hosts had laid on for the officials. Indeed, after attending a reception given by Klaus Bungert, D�sseldorf's Lord Mayor, U.S. Coach John Brennand said, "I've never seen a more sumptuous buffet. There were whole Westphalian hams baked inside enormous loaves of bread. One International Amateur Athletic Federation official went staggering back for thirds, saying, 'I have qualified for the final.' " No athletes were invited.
Bedford, in the austere spirit of cross-country, was not indignant. "All you need is a hard floor, spare food and a lot to drink afterward," he said. Heritage, however, fumed a little, saying, "It's symbolic that they have us running on a horse track."
Ah, but what a horse track. When the Americans inspected the 1�-mile circuit laid out over the undulating, spring-green sod of Grafenberg Race Course, they were enthralled. Set in view of a 16th-century castle, between birch woods and a double row of great, dark chestnut trees, the site evoked imaginings of baronial romance. Pansies and yellow bursts of forsythia surrounded towering stands and a glassed, oriental-carpeted tea house where members of D�sseldorf's industrial elite could sit at linen-covered tables and gaze over their schnapps at the runners below. "It's beautiful," said Jeff Wells, a first-year student at Dallas Theological Seminary. "Just beautiful."
Beautiful and subtly lethal. Studded with sand hazards and log barriers, the course had been marked with miles of red and white plastic ribbon, guiding the runners over the most hoof-churned ground available. "Compared with this, the course we qualified on at Alameda [ Calif.] was a joke," said Jon Anderson of Eugene, Ore., the 1973 Boston Marathon champion.