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Moreover, to race in Berlin, Aouita had to put his king on hold. Morocco's King Hassan II had scheduled an audience for the same day as the Berlin meet. Most kings probably wouldn't care if you're trained to a racing edge or that it's the heart of your season. But the king understood and took a rain check. Aouita, in effect, having promised something extraordinary, figured he'd better deliver.
It was cool in Berlin, 64°, and the races preceeding the 1,500 were discouragingly slow. Volker Blumenthal of West Germany led for the first 800 and hit it in 1:53.50, with Aouita .20 back. Then, as in Zurich, O'Mara took over. With 400 to go, they were 2:35.25. There it was again. Aouita needed a last lap of 54 seconds.
Approaching 1,200, knowing he couldn't go much farther, O'Mara surged, trying to get Aouita to react to him, to get him sprinting. And as O'Mara moved aside, Aouita did go howling away, quickly opening up 20 yards on Sydney Maree. Now everything depended on how hard he could go, how much he could take.
Some 45,000 Berliners rose to encourage him. "They helped me forget the pain," he would say. There was plenty to forget. Aouita's furious, bucking, thrashing stretch run has no precedent in record middle-distance running. He willed a 54.2 last lap, becoming only the fourth man to hold both the 1,500 and 5,000 records simultaneously. (The others: Paavo Nurmi, Gunder Hägg, Sandor Iharos.) Now he has his sights on the mile, 3,000 and steeplechase records.
The king sent Aouita a telegram extending his "warmest fatherly congratulations." When reminded of his Zurich remark, Aouita said, "Yes, it took courage, but only to show how well I can run even when I'm injured. If I hadn't been, I could have run 3:27."
What a stretch run that would entail.
Wonderful races abounded last week. When Mary Decker Slaney reached the last 100 of her mile in Zurich, she had the most tangible of stimuli alongside—Romania's Maricica Puică. This was the first meeting of the two since Slaney's fall in the Olympic 3,000, a race that Puică went on to win.
Slaney had wanted a fast pace, to run the sprint out of Puică, maybe even to get the thing decided before the homestretch, but Delisa Walton, the rabbit, had provided only a modest half, 2:10.17. Slaney then led, but with some caution. "I felt Puică's presence all the time. I knew everybody would kick," she said.
Puică had kept to the rail in fourth and fifth place in the early going, so the presence closest to Slaney was a gritty, vastly improved Zola Budd, fresh from winning, for her adopted Great Britain, the Europa Cup 3,000 in Moscow. There she had demonstrated a newly potent kick, and here she meant to use it.
With 400 to go, Puică had come wide to take over second, where she would be free to attack when she chose. There would be no tactical mistakes to account for the winning or losing of this race.