Gradually, Slaney quickened the pace. She can do this so imperceptibly, just lengthening her stride without changing her cadence, that pursuers can be forgiven for concluding not that she's going faster, but that they're suddenly slower. Yet, with 200 to go, Puică and Budd were still locked on her.
Slaney gave herself a little pep talk. "I thought, I feel good. I feel strong." She had reason. Five days earlier she had broken her own U.S. 800-meter record with a 1:56.90 in Bern. The tape encasing her right calf looked ominous, but it was simply a preventive measure, to take the pressure off a tender Achilles tendon.
Off the turn, Puică pounced. Budd drove along on the inside, waiting for the opening that usually comes when a leader veers outward to hold a challenger wide.
But Slaney did no veering. She said to herself, "I better get going," and dipped her head for an instant. When it came up again, there was no expression there, nothing but running animal. She held her form.
Puică, wild to beat this woman who had overshadowed her in the Olympics by the ridiculous means of tripping and falling, tried too hard. Her straw locks jerked like a shaken mop as she threw her head back. She might have been invoking the gods to her cause. It was what Aouita would do in his 1,500. He got more of an answer than Puică. She saw only lavender sky.
Slaney was four yards clear by the end, which she reached in 4:16.71, breaking Puică's 3-year-old world record of 4:17.44. Puică was also under her old mark with 4:17.33, and Budd almost stole up for second with 4:17.57, an improvement of more than five seconds on her previous best. They are now history's three fastest women milers.
Afterward, Slaney spoke as if that homestretch scare was a privilege. "So rare to get a race like today," she said. "You have to have that competition to push yourself." She acknowledged that the mile record still isn't the equal of the USSR's Tatyana Kazankina's wondrous 3:52.47 for 1,500 meters, set in this meet in 1980. That is worth something under 4:12. (By contrast, Slaney passed the 1,500 point in this mile in 4:00.51.) "But I think in a year, the mile record can be cut to 4:10," Slaney said.
Four days later, on Sunday in Cologne, Slaney took Puică into the stretch of the 3,000 and again held her off. Slaney's time of 8:29.69 broke the American record of 8:29.71, which she had set in 1982. "All this proves," Slaney said, "is that I'm a good enough athlete to be in contention in the Olympics."
The women's sprints at Zurich were also rematches, and they came out very differently from a year ago. That was when Evelyn Ashford validated her Olympic 100-meter gold against East Germany's Marlies Göhr and sliced the world record to 10.76. That was also when Olympic 200 and 400 champion Valerie Brisco-Hooks got mangled by Göhr's countrywoman Marita Koch. This year all but Ashford were back. She had given birth to a daughter, Raina Ashley Washington, on May 30.
"We were thinking the fast one is at home with her baby," said Koch. "Then I saw Brisco-Hooks in the 100."