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The announcement from Jack (Legs) O'Reilly all but crackled through Detroit's Cobo Arena last Saturday afternoon: "Believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen, if Villanova wins this final event, it will take the NCAA indoor track championships by one point."
Was this the same Villanova team that had begun this last day of competition in 25th place? At that point, it seemed certain that the University of Texas at El Paso, the pre-meet favorite, could not help but win its fifth title in six years. But suddenly UTEP was like a small boy on a carousel who has grabbed the gold ring but neglected to hold on to his horse.
Among UTEP partisans there was a feeling of helplessness. The final event was the mile relay and the Miners were not entered. All they could do was pace the floor as an energized Villanova relay team beat Maryland and snatched away the gold ring.
But where had all the Villanova points come from in the first place? Even Banks didn't seem sure. He had been smiling as the day's competition began, and the capacity crowd of 9,500 had been filled with anticipation, but mostly for great individual performances. So what if the team championship was all but wrapped up? UTEP's Suleiman Nyambui, who has run an 8:17.9 indoor two mile, the second fastest in history, had yet to compete. He would win that event and perhaps double in the mile. And certainly it would be gratifying to see Villanova's Don Paige provide his team, which had faltered badly on Friday, with a few minutes of glory over 1,000 yards. In addition Maryland's Renaldo Nehemiah could be counted on to break some kind of record in the 60-yard hurdles.
Nehemiah was introduced by Legs O'Reilly as "our great hope for Moscow," and, as expected, he proceeded to break his NCAA record of 7.16 three times, first with a 7.08 in a preliminary heat, then with a 6.98 in a quarterfinal and next with a winning 6.90 in the final, just .02 off his world record. Nehemiah admitted Moscow was on his mind, but that his long-range goal is to become a pro football quarterback.
UTEP started off its scoring on the final day with four points from Jerome Deal's fourth-place finish in the 60-yard dash. That event was won for the second year in a row by Texas A&M's Curtis Dickey in 6.15. Thus as Nyambui got ready for the two mile the Miners led Villanova 31-2.
As usual, Nyambui, a 22-to-28-year-old UTEP freshman from Tanzania, stood at the start wearing his deceptively sleepy expression, and, as usual, he started out way back in the pack. He hung there effortlessly on the 11-laps-to-the-mile track as if on automatic pilot, before moving into third place with three laps to go. Then, as he entered the last turn, Nyambui waved to his friends at trackside, flashed his gap-toothed grin and left almost all the other runners gasping far to the rear. His time of 8:37.87 was undistinguished, but it meant 10 more points for his team, and perhaps he had been saving himself for the mile.
Villanova trailed 41-2 as the 600-yard run began, but Banks was taking nothing for granted. He bundled up Nyambui and walked him down a hall like a fine but tired thoroughbred while he whispered to his charge, "Let's get your body temperature down."
There were two sections of four runners each in the 600, first place to be decided on time. Villanova sophomore Anthony Tufariello was content with an early second place, but as the gun lap began he surged past Miami of Ohio freshman Darrell Sargent and won by eight yards in 1:09.4, just .01 of a second under the NCAA record. Villanova was now merely 29 points down.