Eamonn Coghlan (3:50.6) and Steve Scott (3:51.8) are the two fastest indoor milers in history. They hadn't met indoors for two years, but last Friday, as the gun sounded to begin the mile at the Michelob Invitational track meet in San Diego's Sports Arena, just one look was all it took to make it clear that this race would produce no new record. Scott eyed Coghlan. Coghlan glanced at Scott. "And we kind of walked off the line," said Scott. Pacesetter Joe Fabris cleared out on his way to a first 440 of 58.5. Coghlan and Scott were last and next to last, respectively, at 60.0.
Todd Harbour of the Santa Monica Track Club was running second, followed by Dr. Thomas Wessinghage, the European 5,000-meter champion, Jay Woods of BYU, Scott and Coghlan. Passing the 880 mark in 1:58.2, the bearded Fabris had 30 yards on this remarkably timid field. "I tried not to entertain thoughts of running away with the race," Fabris said. "I knew they'd be coming back at me."
They weren't yet. Woods went to second. Behind him Scott ran carefully, keeping his attention fixed on his right flank, from where any Coghlan move would have to come. For his part, Coghlan seemed in a kinesthetic trance, absorbed in the rhythm of Scott's heels.
Woods led them past Fabris at the three-quarters in 2:59.0. Scott, his eagerness showing, ran too close to Woods and caught a spike in his right shin. He didn't feel it. He didn't hear the split called. He didn't care about it. This was not a race for fast times. This was for honor.
Two years ago Scott had lost in San Diego to Coghlan's world-record performance, but had gone on in the ensuing outdoor seasons to become the most accomplished U.S. miler since Jim Ryun. His American-record 3:47.69 last summer in Oslo was a third of a second off Sebastian Coe's world standard. His career has been a ratchet; now 26, he has improved his best mile or 1,500 every year since high school. In 1982 he won 16 of 17 races against the best in the world. Where once he had been the brave front-runner who was cut down by the kick of a Coe or Ovett or Coghlan, now he was a complete racer, with a killing finish of his own. He would not let Coghlan drop him back to the old days without a violent struggle.
Coghlan's last two years, unlike Scott's, had been filled with repeated, devastating loss. His college coach, Jumbo Elliott of Villanova, died of a heart attack in 1981, a month after Coghlan set his record. "Jumbo not only made sure I had a good education, he let me break into my true potential," says Eamonn. "If not for him, I mightn't be running today. I might've reached a comfortable level in Ireland and settled for that."
Coghlan won the World Cup 5,000 in 1981, but soon thereafter suffered a stress fracture of his right shin. He didn't run indoors at all in 1982. When the bone had knitted and he began to train again, there was a new pain in his left heel. Nothing he tried eased the pain in his Achilles tendon. He had to surrender his outdoor season as well.
On May 4, 1982, Coghlan's Irish coach, Gerry Farnan, who had guided him since he was a child, died. Coghlan says, "If I'd won the gold [He was fourth in the 1976 Olympic 1,500 and fourth again in the 1980 5,000. Thus, the number of the day of Farnan's death did not escape him.], all of Ireland would have won. But when I lost, it was just Gerry and me who had to hear how badly I'd done. He was a quiet man, never claiming credit. At his funeral there were a thousand people, hundreds of them kids he'd affected."
Coghlan, who's now 30, will never have another coach. "Gerry was the guy I went to for pity, for motivation, for confidence," he says. "That can't be replaced, that taking of a man into the deepest of your confidence."
In the summer of 1982, Wessinghage suggested that Coghlan visit a clinic in West Germany. "They reached the same diagnosis my doctor in New Jersey, Dave Thomashow, had," says Coghlan, "that scar tissue in the tendon had hardened during the layoff for the stress fracture. But they did a kind of radiation treatment, like X-ray therapy. Within three days there was no pain."