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Waitz, considering these points of view, agrees. "I probably could get near 3:55 with a year of intensive speed training. But I believe you will need to run a 3:55 just to make the final in the Moscow Olympics. If I had never been in an Olympics, I would try for the 1,500. But I have been in two Olympics, and I have decided I won't do all that kind of training that I don't like to maybe be in the final. I have found my way of training, and I want to stick to it. So, since I cannot feel right about going to an Olympics with no chance to represent my country as best I can, I shall not run in Moscow."
Perhaps, as with her startling examples of what women can achieve in distance running, Waitz will further enhance the cause of equity of opportunity by her absence. The vacuum left by the world's most celebrated female distance runner will serve as eloquent protest. The timing would be apt, because it will be in Moscow during the 1980 Games that the International Amateur Athletic Federation Congress may try to take the first steps toward parity by voting to replace the women's 3,000 meters with the 5,000 and adding the 10,000 and marathon to its major competitions (the 1981 World Cup and 1983 World Championship). Such action is not at all sure to be taken because many on the IAAF do not believe women's distances are yet contested in enough countries to warrant inclusion in its programs. But should that change be implemented, it would then be up to the still more hidebound, all-male IOC to place those races in the Games. An IOC vote might well be a reflection, not of women's ability to run distance, but of much of the Third World's view of women as beings of secondary importance. One hope remains, however: that of the Eastern European nations coming to see the handwriting on the wall. The U.S. and Western European women continue to improve at the longer distances (as illustrated by the U.S. women's team victory in this spring's world cross-country championship in Ireland), enjoying a growing edge over the Soviets and East Germans, who encourage only Olympic events. It is in the latter's competitive interest to get the women's distances in the big international meets now, when they can start roughly even with the West.
Waitz is without illusion that the IOC will be quickly persuaded to add the distances to the Games. "It won't be easy. The arguments have all been tried. I think for many people anything new takes getting used to. In 1973 when we first ran the 3,000 here in Oslo, lots of journalists said it was terrible, it wasn't 'pretty' to see the women getting tired. That changed when I set a world record in it in 1975. Everybody loved it then." Indeed, this spring when Grete ran in the Norwegian cross-country championship, held on the grassy hills near the Ostensjovann bird sanctuary, 3,000 people came out to watch her win, and 1,500 promptly went home satisfied, ignoring the men's race.
Waitz is hailed by her road-racing competition as an inspiring view of what is to come. "She's teaching us what it is to train like serious athletes," says Patti Lyons, who finished second to Joan Benoit in last April's Boston Marathon. In her concentration, her cool grace, her coiled-spring hardness, Waitz is a riveting symbol of uncompromised excellence, and the message is taking hold.
Blessed with a progressive society and an encouraging husband, Waitz has little sense of herself as a campaigner for the right to fully develop one's gifts. Oslo, which frequently sees world records set in its Bislett Stadium, never has had an exercise boom because its citizens have never stopped exercising. "People walk in the woods and to work, and ski in the winter," she says. "The common man is much more fit than in the U.S." Norwegians do not worship their champions so much as they respectfully emulate them. Waitz finds the mass runs in the U.S., such as the 14,000-strong New York Marathon, strangely antic, the running mania as far out of proportion as was the country's earlier indifference to running. Too, the surge to women's road running, she feels, with its emphasis on high training mileages, is not necessarily best for performances. "The main difference between me and the other girls is simply that I have more speed, more tempo. Girls training now don't do enough speed or track training. They are running long all the time."
Even though road races have proved to be her forte, Waitz remains steadfast in her judgment that track and cross-country are more important. She has changed nothing in her training to prepare for her second marathon. "No really long runs," she says. "Rather than the two hours at a time that the others do, I prefer an hour in the morning, another hour in the evening." Her goals are private, but she will tolerate some brief speculation about how rapidly she may be able to run 10,000 meters. Thirty minutes would be a historic pinnacle, as Paavo Nurmi was never able to run that fast (he set a world record of 30:06.2 in 1924). Waitz' 31:15.4 was done on the road on a warm day in June in New York's L'eggs Mini-Marathon over a hilly course, and she set her own pace all the way. "It's mentally easier on the road," says Waitz, "but Jack says running in spikes on a level track on a cool evening will be faster, and running with men, it will not feel like 25 laps."
"Maybe 30:30," says Jack with a tender expression. "The only question is, will she ever do it?"
This seems a bow to the quiet internal workings of Grete, a willingness to wait for her resolve to crystallize. It conforms with her own assessment of herself, that she will get to these things when she is ready.
"Sometimes people look at me and because I am not always smiling and laughing, they think I am sad. I'm not sad, I'm not. I'm maybe a little cool. Not impulsive, but controlled. That's the word. Controlled."