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The women's mile, by contrast, was slow, which suited Suzy Favor just fine. With half a lap to go, she tried to squeeze past world-record holder Doina Melinte of Romania on the inside. When that didn't work, Favor, 22, slowed and swung wide around the final turn. Her lunge at the finish nipped Melinte. Favor's winning time of 4:37.55 was slow compared with Melinte's world record of 4:17.14, but because she had never before beaten Melinte at the mile, the victory was sweet.
Michael Johnson had a much easier time of it in the men's 400. Johnson, 23, who last year became the first person ever to rank first in the world in both the 200 and 400 meters, sat comfortably on Chip Jenkins's shoulder until one lap remained. He then shot past Jenkins to finish in 46.70. "I basically set out to have some fun, make some money and run some meets," said Johnson, who will skip Seville to concentrate on getting ready for the outdoor season.
Friday's best event took place 10 hours earlier and 70 miles away, at Princeton University's Jadwin Gym. Lance Deal, 29, of Eugene, Ore., threw the 35-pound weight 79'3�", breaking by 9�" the world indoor best Tore Johnsen of Norway set seven years ago. Remarkably, Deal's average for the six-throw series was 78'2�", a mark bettered only by Johnsen's world indoor best.
Diane Dixon, 26, has reduced her rivals in the women's 400 to the role of observers, though it's doubtful they're happy about that. She complains that her event doesn't get the attention it deserves, and she's probably right. But it's her own fault: She has taken the suspense out of her races.
Dixon came to the Garden hoping to win a record 10th indoor national title. "I actually regurgitated before I ran," she said. "I've never done that before."
Dixon poured all that tension into the first turn and pulled five meters ahead. No one got close to her, and she finished in 52.38. "Every straightaway I heard Freddie," said Dixon, referring to Fred Thompson, the 57-year-old lawyer from Brooklyn who coaches the all-female Atoms Track Club, to which she belongs. "Out of all the people in the arena, I can always hear Freddie's voice."
For a time, however, she refused to heed it. Dixon grew up in the tough Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. She was—and is—tough and sassy. Dixon was 12 when she was lucky enough to cross paths with Thompson. "He raised me," she says. "He makes you want to run track. He also prepares you for the outside world." She won her first indoor TAC title in 1981, as a 16-year-old high school junior.
But in 1987 she and Thompson parted company. "The trust we had was broken," says Dixon.
"Diane did nothing wrong," says Thompson. "But I felt that the people around her were not good." One of them, a former boyfriend, is serving 10 years for selling cocaine.
Life's big changes, which most people measure in years, Dixon measured in months. Last winter, on the advice of Bill Cosby, she moved to Xenia, Ohio, to train with Josh Culbreath and the men's team at Central State University. She returned home after three months. Another mentor, George Steinbrenner, suggested she train in Tampa. Dixon stayed there for six months, during which she got married. Her marriage lasted five months. In October she again moved back to Brooklyn. "I missed the garbage trucks and gunfire," she says.