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"Lasse's problems before the two Olympics were entirely different," he says. "Six weeks before Munich he ran 5,000 in 13:19, so he was ready. But was he too early? We had a test run in Stockholm and he broke the world record for two miles with 8:14. He was ready. But still the newspapers said the peak won't last. So we employed a test to put Lasse's mind at ease. Most of his speed work is not done on the track but out on forest trails or soft roads and in races. He only went on the track three times all that summer. Each time was the same. He would run 200 meters 20 times and we would time him and take his pulse right after each 200. In June he averaged 30 seconds and 190 beats per minute. In July, before the two-mile record, he averaged 29.3 and 186. In August, before the Olympics, he did 27.2 and 172. So we had real proof that there was nothing to worry about. Tactics were easy in Munich because we knew Dave Bedford of England would lead fast. Everything worked according to plan." Listening, one quickly senses how Viren could place his faith in this rational, assured man.
"Trust doesn't come from personality," Haikkola says. "It comes from being able to show a runner what he can do. Before Montreal we gave Lasse the same test. He averaged 28.2 and 182 beats per minute, not his best. His training had been interrupted by a month-long sinus infection that had to be drained six or seven times. So we did another test, to discover what kind of work was needed. He did 5,000 meters on grass by sprinting 50 meters and easing 50 meters, sprinting and easing, 50 sprints in all. He finished in a time of 13:32 [better than all but a handful of runners can do while running an even pace]. But his pulse was only 186. In perfect racing condition he would go over 200 after such a sustained stress-ease exercise. His body was not reacting to the stress in an efficient manner. It was obvious that he needed additional speed training, but there were only eight days left before the 10,000-meter heats. It was here that Lasse was different from any other runner I've known. He believed me when I said there was still time. Three days later he was quicker; you could see the difference in the action of his ankles. He was reaching his maximum sharpness."
Then there were tactics. "Before every race, just before going to the stadium, we analyze every opponent, his strengths and weaknesses and habits." Haikkola draws out a thick notebook with pages of material on all the best distance runners in the world. "No one seemed to be sure to lead for the first two or three kilometers. So the plan we made was to run the last two kilometers hard. But in the race Carlos Lopes of Portugal ran fast enough to lose everyone but Lasse, and Lasse had only to take the race from Lopes in the last lap. In the 5,000, everything developed exactly as we expected."
It was only after his win in the 5,000 that Viren decided to enter the marathon. Earlier in the year he had run one 25-kilometer race in Helsinki to qualify for the event, but he had kept open the option not to compete at Montreal until after he had run the two long-distance track races. Then he would decide, and he would run only if he thought he could win the marathon. It was not to be, but, remarkably, the day after his victory in the 5,000, Viren finished fifth in the 26-mile road race, thus completing 102,000 meters of Olympic competition.
Seeming at pains to minimize his own role in Viren's accomplishments, Haikkola raises a hand and says, "Now I am going to tell you how Lasse Viren won," and begins to tick off the man's gifts. "His style is the most economical in the world. Using a computer, we found he wastes far less energy than anyone else." Indeed, Puttemans, the world-record holder at 5,000 meters and a smoothie himself, says running next to Viren is infuriating. "You're running hard and he's floating away as if he's doing nothing."
"I think he is similar to Herb Elliott." says Haikkola, referring to the 1960 Olympic 1,500-meter champion from Australia. "At the end Lasse doesn't change his style. He just puts more energy into it."
There are internal amazements as well. "Lasse's heart is twice as big as that of any other Finnish distance runner. His pulse at rest is 32 beats a minute. He has an enormous capacity for transporting oxygen."
Finally, Haikkola comes to the element of faith, about which he is shy, because he is the keeper of it, but he tells of one incident that illustrates the bond between runner and coach. In 1974 Viren pulled his left hamstring muscle but attempted to continue training for the European championships in Rome. "We were in Lapland, in a training camp. Lasse had to hold ice on his leg three times a day. Once he ran too hard and the next morning he could hardly stand." Haikkola describes an outburst of frustration. "Lasse threw his running shoes right into the lake. I went to him...." And the listener knows that Haikkola's voice is as it was then, icy and penetrating. " 'We will now stop talking about your leg,' I said, 'until after Rome.' " Viren finished third in the 5,000 there, then had to have an operation on the muscle in early 1975. The surgeon said it seemed impossible that he had run on it at all.
Wisps of Haikkola's hair lift from his head and his Finnish becomes impassioned when he considers the blood-doping rumors. "When Lasse was asked about it so much he thought it was an insulting bad joke. Maybe the innuendo angered him and made him run faster. But in any case, it's absurd. If it worked with Lasse, why wouldn't we have done it with all our steeplechasers and distance runners? All those medals went to English and Portuguese and New Zealanders and Swedes and Belgians. Poles, West and East Germans and Americans. No one here asked how it could be possible for one man to win so much. He was just good. Nurmi, Zatopek, Kuts, they were good. But Lasse, when he wins, it is questioned."
The mention of Nurmi gets Haikkola thinking. "Nurmi was different from Lasse. Lasse is private and shy. But Nurmi was truly, terribly alone."