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Not everyone was quite so ready to crown Morceli. His own manager, Amar Brahmia, was the soul of caution. "He's an honest guy and will do his best," said Brahmia. "But it's impossible to push a button and run a record. It's better we not think about this record."
Meet director Ray Lumpp reminded Brahmia of the bonus for a world record. "He will be $100,000 richer," Lumpp said.
"No," said Brahmia with a sudden gust of passion. "I know, dollars are very important in America—and in Algeria, too. But it's not our first objective to win the $100,000." Indeed, Morceli later estimated that by choosing to compete in the U.S. this winter rather than in Europe, he had already passed up more than that sum in guaranteed appearance fees. What meant more to him than money, he said, was the chance to become the first Algerian to hold a world track and field record.
The U.S. circuit is fortunate to have him. Perhaps it's the war in the Persian Gulf, or perhaps it's competition from Europe's growing indoor circuit, but whatever the reason, the U.S. indoor circuit continues to slump. Two Grand Prix meets—the Los Angeles Times Indoor Games and the Knights of Columbus meet in Cleveland, both originally scheduled for this weekend—were canceled.
But 10,843 showed up at the Meadow-lands Friday night, an increase over last year's attendance; they were treated not only to Morceli's mile but also to several other outstanding performances. Ten minutes after nipping Greg Foster in the 55-meter hurdles, 6.99 to 7.01, Tony Dees narrowly lost an equally exciting 55-meter dash to his Florida Clippers teammate, Andre Cason, 6.18 to 6.21; Diane Dixon trounced the field in the women's 400, leading from start to finish and clocking 52.58; Istvan Bagyula of Hungary, a 21-year-old junior at George Mason University, cleared 19'�" in the pole vault, breaking Billy Olson's nine-year-old collegiate record by 2�"; and Debbie Lawrence of Kenosha, Wis., walked 1,500 meters in 5:54.35, the first time a woman has broken six minutes.
To surpass Coghlan's record, Morceli felt he had to reach the halfway point in 1:54. To help him, Lumpp provided an unusual rabbit—Mike Michno, 28, a first lieutenant in the Air Force who in his spare time has run a creditable 3:40.80 for the 1,500. In December, Michno had written to Lumpp, explaining that he expected to serve a tour of duty in the Persian Gulf soon and would love to run in a major race before he left. Lumpp offered Michno the role of rabbit, and he jumped at it.
The race began well. Michno grabbed the lead from the gun, and Morceli followed him. But after one lap Michno heard Brahmia screaming at him from the infield to slow down. Like a good soldier, he obeyed. It was only when Michno heard 58.5 at the quarter that he realized his own instincts had been right. When he picked up the pace, only Morceli went with him. They ran their second 440 in 56 seconds, opening 20 yards on the field and passing the half in 1:54.5.
With four laps to go, Michno moved outside, leaving Morceli on his own. He passed three quarters in 2:52.7. But whereas Coghlan, in his 1983 world-record effort, had been chased furiously into the last lap by Ray Flynn, Morceli led by 40 yards and showed no sign of distress. A good scare would have helped him immensely. "He's not using the banks at all," Coghlan said later as he watched the race on tape. "You've got to build your momentum in the turns."
Morceli will learn. With the crowd on its feet for the last lap, he hit the finish and squinted up at his 3:50.81 on the arena clock. O'Sullivan was second, in 3:56.75, with Arkansas senior Reuben Reina third, in 3:58.29.
Asked what he thought he could run outdoors, Morceli did not hesitate. "Maybe 3:45, 3:44. [ Steve Cram's world record is 3:46.32.] Outdoors, it's more easy," he said, then excused himself. "Thank you very much. I'll be here next year for my second try."