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Kenny Moore
July 30, 1979
England's Sebastian Coe shattered the record for the mile with a 3:49 that crushed a star-studded field in Oslo
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July 30, 1979

A Glittering Run In A Golden Mile

England's Sebastian Coe shattered the record for the mile with a 3:49 that crushed a star-studded field in Oslo

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The early events were inspiring. Edwin Moses ran 47.67 in the 400-meter hurdles, only .22 of a second off his world record and the best time in the world this year. Rod Dixon of New Zealand won a splendid 8:15.2 two-mile from England's Brendan Foster, and Norway's Grete Waitz ran the second-fastest 3,000 meters ever by a woman, 8:31.8.

A faint tang floated from the nearby Frydenlund brewery—"Bislett's real secret," said one Norwegian runner—as the 13 milers, after putting up with five minutes of hyped introductions for television, went to the line.

Coe's thoughts were clear. "My father and I had sat down and chatted about it," he said later. "We felt, with a field like this, I wouldn't have to make many decisions. It would be stupid to lead, but no matter how fast the race went, I knew I wasn't going to be run out. So I would get a good position and be happy with whatever was going on."

To avoid the inevitable pushing on the first turn, Coe led for 100 meters. Then he was passed by Wisconsin's Steve Lacy, who had volunteered as rabbit after being sick a few days earlier. A 3:54.7 miler and a proud competitor, he said, "It is something I won't do again." But he did his job well, passing 400 meters in just under 57 seconds, with Scott second and a little gap opening to Wessinghage and Coe and the pack. At the rear was Coghlan; he had to pass six runners in the next 200 meters just to reach the middle of the pack, and the effort tired him. "I couldn't hear the splits because of the crowds roaring," he said, "but I knew I was going faster than I ever have, and here were all these men in front of me."

Lacy and Scott hit 800 meters in 1:54.0, Coe in 1:54.5. In his world-record run, Walker had been 1:55.1 at 880 yards. "I was upset at myself for not being more aggressive," said Walker. "But, my God, I was 1:55.5 at the half."

Even before Lacy pulled off the track after 800 meters, Scott had felt strangely lonely, unaware of the struggles behind him. "I was always where I wanted to be," he said, "but it seemed like it was just the two of us doing the work as usual." With Lacy gone it was just Scott, and he ran as hard as he ever has, stretching the field, wrecking Coghlan's hope of catching up. Only Coe stayed with him. Coghlan finally attained third with 600 meters to run, but was still far behind the leaders.

With 500 meters left, Coe came even with Scott. As he did, he looked behind to check their margin. It was almost a casual movement, without a trace of strain. His arms were loose and relaxed. Of his economy of movement at high speed he would say afterward, "I run unconsciously, as if I am on automatic pilot. I am afraid it is something you have or you don't." Masback felt that Coe was running "with confidence tempered with humility. He'd done what he had to do to be in a position to win a race."

Coe had the lead at 1,200 meters in 2:52.0. He heard no splits throughout the race, but Walker, in fifth, heard this one. "I said to myself, 'Well, it's gone.' "

Around the last lap, Coe moved steadily away from Scott, who was straining, upright and stiff, to stay close. By contrast, Coe never labored, never imparted anything but a sense of boyish enjoyment. He looked around at least nine times in all, and though he said, "That's called fear," he admitted he was not nearly as tired at the finish as he had been at the end of his record 800.

He won by 15 meters in a world-record 3:48.95, which will go into the record books as 3:49. Behind him, Scott drove himself all out, never letting the runners in back of him approach within eight yards. Then, inexplicably, he slowed before he crossed the line. "I walked across, which cost me a lot," he said later in disgust. It had, because his time was 3:51.11 on the electronic phototimer, .01 of a second slower than Jim Ryun's 12-year-old American record. "It must be wrong," Scott raged, and indeed all the unofficial hand-held watches—usually a tenth or two faster—had him in 3:50.8. Worse yet, because Ryun's record was hand-timed only, Scott surely ran faster, but his time will not be official.

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