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The early pace was very fast as Salazar and Rono led a narrowing funnel of runners. Then the pair, confused by the snow that made course markers hard to spot, took a wrong turn and a dozen additional competitors followed. The error was almost instantly discovered and cost only a few seconds, but it was the last Rono saw of the lead as he drifted back and was swallowed in the pack.
Salazar's rivals call him Mule because he is too stubborn to quit. At the Falmouth Road Race late this summer he proved them right when he collapsed at the finish line after vainly chasing winner Bill Rodgers and was taken to a hospital with a temperature of 108°. Over the last frigid section of the NCAA meet, Salazar doggedly built up a 50-yard lead, once again bound for either the finish line or the emergency room, or both. Coming down the stretch the Mule was splay-legged, but he churned out a winning time of 29:29.7.
Michael Musyoki finished second, almost four seconds behind, but he was one of four UTEP runners who placed in the top 16 and earned the team title for the Miners. Salazar's Oregon squad was the runner-up, and Wisconsin was third. The host team's fine finish was the result partly of the fifth-place showing by Steven Lacy, a feat that so delighted Wisconsin students that they wrote his name in the snow.
Salazar's victory had additional sweetness because of the neighborhood feud between Oregon and Washington State, the two powers in the Northwest. Rono, a junior at Washington State, was trying to become the first runner ever to win the NCAA title three times in a row. Gerry Lindgren of Washington State and the late Steve Prefontaine of Oregon both had failed in the same quest, Lindgren in 1968 and Prefontaine in 1972.
The rivalry between the schools has been fed by consistently close and frequent competition and by charges that John Chaplin, coach of Washington State, has loaded his program with Kenyan runners who are older than the average Joe College.
Salazar was born in Cuba, the son of a government civil engineer who fled the Castro regime. He came to America at the age of two. When Salazar and Rono met earlier this season, Chaplin was on the sidelines yelling, "Beat the Cuban."
Salazar's chances to sweep the nation's two major cross-country titles soared when both Rodgers and Frank Shorter decided not to compete in Saturday's AAU meet. Rodgers was getting ready to run in the famed Fukuoka marathon in Japan, and Shorter, the only four-time AAU cross-country champion, canceled out because he was not fully recovered from ankle surgery.
Thus Salazar's biggest competition would come, in effect, from himself. Could he return with only four days' rest to master the steep slopes of the West Seattle Golf Course?
If the course was brutal, at least the 46° temperature was more hospitable than Wisconsin's. After the first mile Salazar was again in the lead. Gradually the competition dropped away until it seemed certain that either Salazar or Greg Meyer, who has run a sub-four-minute mile indoors, would win. Salazar is from Wayland, Mass. and Meyer from Boston. The two are good friends. As they raced, they proposed that they finish together, especially since the rest of the field, save for one lone runner, had somehow made a wrong turn and was hopelessly off course. As race officials vectored the addled athletes back and forth to get in the required 10,000 meters, Salazar and Meyer approached the final hill. And there they decided to sprint to the tape. For a moment Salazar surged ahead, leaning at what he thought was the finish line—except that his estimate was 15 yards short. He finished muddy and regretful. "Now I'm sorry we decided to run together," he said.
Meyer's time was 29:35.9 over the hills and dales. The Mason-Dixon Athletic Club of Louisville, Ky. won the team title, prompting the meet announcer to ask. "Where's the Mason-Dixon line?"