When Scott heard of this prediction on Friday afternoon, he became nervous. "Did Eamonn say we will run 3:49 or we could run 3:49 or we might run 3:49?" he asked. "Or that he's going to run 3:49?" Scott turned skeptical. "For Eamonn to break the record, somebody's going to have to push him through three quarters. Just who's going to do that?"
On Friday night, no one. After a slow early pace, however, Coghlan blew off Scott for an easy victory. "Running 1:53 for the last half mile came easy," said Coghlan, who knew that for Sunday's race he would have not only a track of his own design but also a rabbit of his choosing, former Villanova runner Ross Donoghue, a 3:58 miler. "On Saturday afternoon I watched Villanova beat St. John's in basketball with a shot at the buzzer," Coghlan said. "I considered that a good omen."
At the gun, Donoghue proved it so. He sprinted ahead of the six other milers and then settled into a fast, even pace. Coghlan didn't give Donoghue specific splits to run because "he's too good a runner and he didn't want to be known as a rabbit." Because the Meadowlands' blue plywood track is six, rather than four, lanes wide, jostling was not a problem. And because it's 176 yards long (approximately 10 laps to the mile) rather than the customary 160 yards (11 laps), it gave the runners a psychological boost. "Running 10 always seems easier than running 11," said Coghlan.
The quarter passed in 56.6 seconds, with Donoghue leading a single-file line, each runner one stride ahead of the next. Coghlan was in second, staring fixedly at Donoghue's back. "I blocked out everything else in the arena," said Coghlan later. "All I was thinking was 'Stay with Donoghue, stay with Donoghue.' " Coghlan had one other thought: "I realized I was feeling very good."
So, apparently, was everyone else. As Donoghue reached the half in 1:55.7, the rest of the field remained within 15 yards of him, with Coghlan still second, followed by Scott and Flynn. "I thought about passing them and going for the lead," said Flynn, "but I heard the splits and decided it wouldn't make sense to go any faster." Just past the halfway mark, Donoghue began to slow, a victim of the pace. "I gave him a nudge and told him to go a little farther," said Coghlan, but instead Donoghue pulled off to the side and let everyone else by. Then he stepped off the track and watched.
Coghlan soon had the crowd of 11,741 on its feet as he reached the three-quarter-mile point in 2:54.8—slightly less than his desired split and one second faster than the world-record pace he'd set in San Diego two years earlier. It seemed uncharacteristically early for Coghlan to take the lead. Scott and Flynn were still in close pursuit. "It looked like Eamonn and Steve were both tiring," said Flynn later, but he was only half right. With two laps remaining, Coghlan, who sensed that "Scott and Flynn were waiting to pounce on me," took off.
Flynn easily moved past Scott, but Coghlan similarly drew away from Flynn. He widened his lead to eight, then 10, then 12 yards. "I put all tiredness out of my mind," Coghlan would say. "I was going as hard as I could. I just went hell-for-leather."
For more than just a record: "All I could think of was my coach, Gerry Farnan, and my father," said Coghlan later. "I was saying, hey, this is for you guys."
Anyone doubting Coghlan's objective needed only to look inside his racing spikes. In the heel of each shoe he had inscribed "3:49.5" in blue pen. "I did it when I bought the shoes last November," he said. "And I wrote it in both of them I figured there was no point in one leg going faster than another."
At the tape Coghlan raised both fists and looked up at the scoreboard: 3:49.65, unofficially. He blew a kiss to the fans, hugged the meet director and hopped his way down the backstretch. When the official time came, Coghlan waved and jogged and grinned some more. He had lowered his world indoor record to 3:49.78. Flynn, in second place, had finished in 3:51:20, history's No. 3 indoor clocking, and Scott was third in 3:52.28.