minutes before the mile, Eamonn Coghlan began to warm up. As he ran through the
tunnels beneath the San Diego Sports Arena, where the Jack-in-the-Box Indoor
Games were noisily taking place last Friday night, Coghlan reflected upon that
delicate and elusive combination of character and conditions that must be
present to produce a historic performance. Many of the crucial elements seemed
to be joining.
For one, the
5'10", 140-pound native of Dublin, Ireland was hard and fit from the most
thorough half year of training that he had ever done. Then, too, he had run to
within one tenth of a second of Dick Buerkle's world indoor record of 3:54.9 in
winning the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games a week earlier, even though he
had dawdled and slowed in the final yards. "My wife and sister said I'd
been dumb. I heard that all week long," said Coghlan, a man who is never
dumb twice. He knew, too, that the San Diego track was considerably faster than
Madison Square Garden's.
before the start, Coghlan stopped jogging and began to stretch. "I can
usually tell from my stretching how well I will run," he said afterward.
"Tonight it was good." He examined his own frame of mind. "I was
confident of winning," said this man who has lost only one indoor mile in
seven years, to Kenya's Wilson Waigwa on the same San Diego track two years
ago. "I thought of how Waigwa and John Walker had canceled out of the field
on Wednesday." Waigwa had injured his ankle, and Walker, the outdoor record
holder at 3:49.4, had become ill and returned home to New Zealand. "I was
really glad," Coghlan said. "Had they run, there would have been more
pressure on me. I would have had to concentrate on the winning." Another
prospective rival, Filbert Bayi, the world record holder in the 1,500, would be
in the field, but he was so obviously out of shape Coghlan figured he would not
be a factor. Thus the world record could rise as a clear objective, and chances
could be taken in attacking it.
before the race, Coghlan began to glide through several brisk 80-yard runs,
weaving his way through his competition. In it was Paul Cummings, a BYU
graduate who is now a temporarily unemployed steelworker living in Orem, Utah.
Cummings had set the pace in the Millrose mile, and during the last half of
Walker's indoor world-record 3:37.4 in the 1,500 at the Muhammad Ali meet in
January. He would undoubtedly be in front early. Cummings knew he could not
kick with Coghlan. His somewhat vain hope was to run so hard that he either
built a safe lead or brought the field to staggering exhaustion with a lap to
Coghlan with what seemed wonder that the human race could come up with a
creature so suited to the wrenching turns of board racing. " Coghlan's built
to be an indoor runner," he said. "His lower center of gravity, his
quick stride are real advantages."
As Coghlan left
the warmup area to put on his pale green spikes and a dry Kelly-green racing
shirt, he was confronted by Wisconsin's Steve Lacy, who had run a personal best
3:57.3 in Montreal five days before. "If you ran 3:55 in New York,"
said Lacy, "Lord knows what you'll run here."
But Coghlan knew
that there were variables that had yet to click into place. "I was worried
that someone like Cummings might go through the first quarter mile too
fast," he said, "and then we'd tire out and lose the record in the
middle laps. The best way is even pace."
Cummings' intentions, the luck of the Irish—in the form of Steve
Scott—intervened to slow him. "Every time out this year I'd been elbowed at
the start," said Scott, a 22-year-old Californian who always runs
magnificently in San Diego. "This time I wanted to get out quick. This time
I was elbowing."
Two steps off the
line, Scott caromed Coghlan into Cummings, who broke stride and was passed by
most of the field. Steve Tyler of Cal-Irvine led, with Cummings sweeping back
into second after a lap and a half of the 11-lap race. The quarter was passed
in 58.5 for Tyler, 59.6 for Coghlan, who was floating along in fourth, behind
Scott. Less than a lap later, Cummings bolted into the lead. Coghlan went
around Scott and Tyler, and settled into second. The soft, sure placement of
his feet on the track was in contrast to the forceful tramping of his taller
competitors. "There was a mushy spot just past the starting line," said
Scott. "My knees almost buckled there once." Coghlan never even
noticed. His face was serene, the center of his race filled with calm.
"There was no point to anything but staying relaxed," he said, "and
letting Paul do all that work."
At the half mile,
Cummings was 1:57.0, Coghlan 1:57.6, followed closely by Scott and Lacy. The
vital quarter would be the third. Cummings drove on without letup through the
rising shouts, and still Coghlan, Scott and Lacy clung to him. "It seemed
easy when you got to follow such a smooth, even pace," said Lacy, who
passed Scott and readied himself for a charge at the lead as they approached
the three quarters. The time there was 2:56.5. Whoever won the race would have
the world record.