said Steve Scott the evening before the Golden Mile, looking across the city's
birches and granite and deep green fjord. "All year the milers have been
saying, 'Oslo in mid-July,' the way they knew the indoor race of the year would
be in San Diego."
accord had led to last week's remarkable gathering of the world's best
middle-distance men, including John Walker, New Zealand's mile world-record
holder at 3:49.4; Ireland's Eamonn Coghlan, the winner of that anticipated race
in San Diego with an indoor-record 3:52.6; and England's Sebastian Coe, who had
slashed Alberto Juantorena's 800-meter world record by one second with a 1:42.4
only 12 days earlier, also on Oslo's Bislett Stadium track.
For Scott, the
AAU champion whose slowest mile this year had been 3:57, the appeal of the
competition lay in its opportunity for non-Olympic abandon. "I don't care
who wins," he said. "I just want to run fast. To do that you need guys
who will throw caution to the winds, the way they won't when everybody is just
trying to win."
Coghlan, who ran
the year's fastest outdoor mile, a 3:52.9 at Philadelphia in June, had shown
his stamina by winning the British 5,000-meter championship in a personal-best
13:23.6 just three days before. In that same meet Coe was second in the 400
with a 46.87, competent, to be sure, but not in a class with Juantorena's 44.26
speed—a fact in his favor, said Walker. "Most fast 800-meter men are like
Juantorena, quarter-milers moving up," he said. "But Coe has all the
attributes of a pure miler. He ran that record 800 on strength, not speed. He
is the only man in the field capable of the record, so I bloody well hope
something happens to slow him down."
were planning on a conservative pace. Craig Masback, two years out of Princeton
and studying quasi-autonomous non-governmental organizations (QUANGOS) at
Trinity College, Oxford, resorted to statistics to show that all milers should
be running faster. "If the people who ran 3:39 or better for 1,500
meters—about 50 last year—ran miles, at least 30 would run 3:55. But only about
10 did, so I don't have much respect for mile times." Even, one must
assume, his own, although in the last two years Masback had lowered his mile
time from 4:01 to 3:54.7.
These men and
others, most notably West Germany's Dr. Thomas Wessinghage and England's Dave
Moorcroft, the British Commonwealth Games' 1,500-meter champion, were brought
to Oslo by the Dubai connection. Following the same urge to be identified with
Western sport that has Saudi Arabia sponsoring Grand Prix cars, Dubai, an Arab
emirate, at first hoped to stage an international meet of its own but was
persuaded that its incessant wind and 100° heat would discourage stellar
performances. So last year a deal was struck whereby Dubai gave the
International Amateur Athletic Federation some $400,000, and in return the IAAF
agreed to stage eight world-class events in selected meets over three years.
The first Golden Mile, a more modest affair in Tokyo last September, was won by
England's Steve Ovett in 3:55.5. This year there has been a Golden Javelin
Throw in Hungary; the best sprinters will gather in Zurich in August; and the
finest 10,000-meter runners will meet in Brussels in September.
these events, the IAAF puts the arm on its national affiliates—the AAU in the
case of the U.S.—to come up with their best performers, a kind of leverage no
single meet promoter ever has enjoyed. Thus, when the invitations went out for
the Oslo mile, all but one were accepted. The dramatic exception was Ovett,
indisputably the outdoor miler over the past two seasons and the 1977 World Cup
1,500-meter champion. After winning the British 1,500 in 3:39.1, Ovett declared
that he would not be coming to Norway. "I have nothing to prove," he
said, adding that, without him, whoever won in Oslo would have but "a
hollow victory." By his absence, though, the mercurial Ovett only
heightened the pitch, for as several milers said, the only thing that Ovett
would be missing was the chance for a world record.
site could not have been better chosen. Over the years 32 world records have
been set at Bislett Stadium. Its history is that of the wrenching breakthroughs
by which the sport is advanced. In 1955 in Oslo, Belgium's Roger Moens finally
broke the 1:46.6 800-meter record of Germany's great Rudolf Harbig, which had
stood for 16 years. In 1965, Ron Clarke of Australia ran his finest race to
tear 36 seconds from the world 10,000-meter record. The Bislett track records
are the world records at 800 meters (Coe's 1:42.4), 1,000 meters (Rick
Wohlhuter's 2:13.9), 2,000 meters (Walker's 4:51.4), and 3,000 meters (Henry
Rono's 7:32.1). At 1,500 meters, Walker's track record of 3:32.4 is but .2 of a
second off Filbert Bayi's world record.
for this sustained outpouring of excellence has little to do with the track.
Before 1971, Bislett's cinders were nothing special, and its present artificial
surface is patched and worn. Rather, a joining of crowd and competitors has
become traditional, the close stands bringing the spectators right down on the
runners, the history of records in this special place creating an electric
atmosphere of expectation in which the mind's limits may be briefly cast
It was after a
day of slanting summer sun and cool forest breezes that 16,173 of the Oslo
faithful packed into Bislett with noisy anticipation. They were aroused further
by a ceremony in which Coe, graceful and cheerful and nerveless, received a
medal for his 800-meter record from his father and coach, Peter Coe.