It seemed to Sydney Maree that he had tried so hard, and done so little. "I didn't know why I wasn't running well," he said Sunday night, his mood at once expansive and reflective, for this was important to get down. This was history now. "The whole summer was just a long struggle. I was amazed at what a month's layoff could do to me."
On June 28, reaching the tape in a 3,000-meter race in Oslo, Maree had felt a tightness in his right hamstring. By the end of his victory lap, he was limping—and knew it was a pull. He flew home to Villanova, Pa. and took nearly a month off from the circuit to heal.
Sound once more, he began intense training for the Helsinki World Championships. The effort so tired him that he failed to make the 1,500 final, but he pressed on. His history is one of blooming late in a season. In September 1981, in Rieti, Italy, he ran his best mile, 3:48.83, and beat 1,500-meter record holder Steve Ovett when most of the rest of the world's best milers had long since gone home exhausted.
"I don't race indoors," Maree said. "I do distance and strength training instead. I don't start any speed work until late April. By June, at our TAC nationals, I'm competitive, but it is still my strength that carries me. I'm not relaxed. It's usually only now, in August in Europe, that I get my real speed, that I feel comfortable, say, with running a 1:52 half and keeping going."
But the comfort, the rhythmic ease he had known in other years, refused to come. On Aug. 17, he ran a 3:50.30 mile in Berlin behind Steve Scott's 3:49.21. Six days later, he ran a 3:53.41 mile in Oslo behind Ovett's 3:50.49. No progress. In each he had run as hard as he could, and it showed. His arms thrashed; his stride was reaching and clumsy. Maree at his best is none of those things.
He began to wonder whether he shouldn't just write off the season and go home. He was highly regarded by the other runners because of his past accomplishments and his example of effort, but they began to leave him out of their calculations concerning who would be factors in the last lap. He was becoming a member of the supporting cast.
There were three major meets in Europe last week, and each featured a 1,500. Maree would run in two of them, Brussels on Friday night and Cologne on Sunday. But first, on Wednesday, there was Zurich, where any talk of records swirled around the person of Scott. Scott had lost the slow, disappointingly tactical Helsinki 1,500 to Great Britain's Steve Cram, but more by kicking too late than by inadequate swiftness. Indeed, Scott had gained on Cram all the way down the stretch. Over a full, hard-paced 1,500, it seemed, things would be different.
But Scott didn't find Cram in Zurich. The evening before, in Oslo, Cram had run the year's fastest 800, a 1:43.61. Maree had seen him do it. Cram then decided he would enter the 1,500 in Brussels. However, Scott would run the 3,000 there. "I set up my schedule months ago," said Scott. "I'm not going to be reduced to chasing him. He knows where I'm racing." Setting records, then, seemed to be Scott's only chance at proving his superiority to the tall young Briton.
Rabbit Collin McClive of the U.S. towed the Zurich field through 800 in 1:55.65, but faltered abruptly, leaving Mike Boit in front. Boit did his best, and with 400 to go the time was 2:38. That meant a 53-second closing lap by Scott would earn him Ovett's world record of 3:31.36. But Scott stayed third behind Boit and Spain's José Abascal until 250 to go, and then it was Abascal who moved into first. Scott passed him on the last turn, and edged away down the stretch. Switzerland's Pierre Deleze came on for second.
Scott's time was 3:32.71, the second-fastest of the year, and he confessed to nerves. "I was more tense for this than at Helsinki," he said. "I was tight. And conservative. There was pressure here because of the conscious record try."