Henry Marsh, three laps into the steeplechase, felt anything but promising. Graeme Fell of Great Britain had taken the lead and was driving the pace. "I don't mind losing, but I wanted a fast time," Fell would say later. Marsh told himself that was what he wanted, too. "But all I could feel was my left side. I almost dropped out."
He heard Petersons calling lap times. Since the water jump was outside the track, the race was barely more than seven circuits. Marsh had figured 70 seconds per lap would yield an 8:15. Now Fell had taken them from 71s to 69s. Gradually, Marsh's pain became less controlling. This being steeplechase, the discomfort of his building fatigue began to match it.
"I got into it after the mile," Marsh said later. His hurdling, always crisp, became even more precise. He was working low over the barriers, keeping good momentum over the water jump. Still, he was ninth. After five laps, which Fell completed in 5:50 and Marsh in 5:52, the pack began to string out. Marsh, moving on the inside as he often does, began to work his way up. Over the penultimate water jump, he reached third. With a lap to go, the clock read 7:08. Marsh thought, "If I can do a 68, I've got a shot."
The lead had just been seized by Boguslaw Maminski of Poland, who had been second in Helsinki. Marsh went right with him down the backstretch. Both seemed to be running as fast as the milers. Neither faltered over the last water jump. As the crowd screamed them toward the last hurdle, the Helsinki fall was on everyone's mind, including Marsh's. "I was careful," he would say. "I slowed down for it."
Which meant that once he was safely over, he still had to catch Maminski. Marsh did that, but hung there beside him for a few strides, both runners straining to summon everything. Then Marsh powered irresistibly past. He won by a yard, in an American-record 8:12.37. Maminski was clocked in 8:12.62.
Marsh had done it. And now the pain returned. He walked his victory lap. When teammate Doug Padilla ran to embrace him, Marsh moved away. "The ribs, the ribs," he said.
On the victory stand, he only raised one hand to the crowd. "Even though it didn't feel like it, it was perfect for me the way Fell and Maminski kept the pace hard," he said. "They were moving so fast I never could relax."
As he spoke, javelin world-record holder Tom Petranoff ran up and pumped his hand. "Great bleeping race!" he said.
"Hey, you did all right yourself," said Marsh. "What was it, 88 meters?"
"No, 93.54 [306'11"], during your last lap."