Two men were out to get him. Sydney Maree, the former 1,500 record holder, and the Olympic champion at 10,000, Alberto Cova of Italy. Both are renowned finishers. After Torstein Brox of Norway and Bob Verbeck of Belgium had rabbited past halfway at near-record pace, Aouita took over and kept up a steady flow of 63-second laps. Only Maree and Cova stayed with him. "From 3,000 to the end, I felt very bad," said Aouita. "Not in my legs, but in the stomach." Aouita is all chest and legs and teeth. He has run a 1:44.37 800, but speed training is said to hurt his flat feet.
Maree stayed second, so close that Aouita would always sense him. "From 2,000 meters, I knew he was there and going well and that he would attack," said Aouita. "The question was when."
And whether Aouita could respond. "I felt [then] that I couldn't do it today," he said. "At 3,000 I even thought of dropping out of the race."
With 600 to go, the pace got to Cova, and he fell away. Ten meters before the last-lap bell, Maree took off. The sight of him cutting in ahead jolted Aouita. "I liked it very much when he attacked," said Aouita later. "He helped the last 400 meters."
Aouita came to Maree's shoulder with 200 to go, and Maree held him there, outside, running farther on the turn. But Aouita fought even with 150 to run, pulled ahead off the turn and sprinted through the stretch. "I knew," he said. "I knew when Sydney sped ahead it was going to be a world record."
That was an awful lot of certainty for what turned out to be a very near thing. He hit the line in 13:00.40,.01 faster than Dave Moorcroft's great solo run at Bislett in 1982.
Aouita's last lap had taken but 54.4 seconds. Maree had given Aouita the world record with his long charge, and Aouita acknowledged it. "If he had gone from 800 meters, we'd have broken 13 minutes," he said, greedy and happy at the same time.
Yet the idea of records struck Cram, for one, as rather ethereal. "World records will always be second best to gold medals, simply because you can go out and run against the clock any day of the week," he said. "If you don't get it, you can easily try again. But there is only one day every four years when you have the chance to win the ultimate championship."
All true, but even Cram will admit that there are special Oslo summer nights when everyone understands that there are no limits, when the best who have ever lived call forth all they have. This was such a night, and the memory will remain for the lifetimes of at least the 20,000 spectators, as imperishable as any medal any miler will ever win.