Brown, now a minute behind, was content with a spot on the team. "The slower the better," she would say. "It was more like a training run than a destructive duel." She would place second in 2:31:41. "I expected to have to do 2:27," she said.
Behind Brown, Larsen had her own problems. One was 5'1", 100-pound Cathy Schiro, 16, a junior at Dover (New Hampshire) High and the youngest runner in the field. Schiro's roommate in Olympia was the trial's oldest participant, Sister Marion Irvine, 54, a Dominican nun, who would come in 132nd. Larsen saw Schiro coming. "Just stay calm," I told myself, "and if she gets past, go with her." But Schiro ran out of steam and would slip to ninth. She was one of the women that Julie Isphording would pass during her rush to the front.
Isphording, 22, whose graduation day from Xavier University this was (she had a 3.8 GPA in business administration), was 23rd at 10 miles. "It seemed too fast for me," she said. "I realized I had to run my pace and be patient." Then she began to work up, gaining momentum with each victim. With three miles to go she was blasting along at 5:20 pace. "But I didn't know what place I was in. People had stopped telling me when I got to about ninth."
Larsen knew what she was about to lose. "If I had it to do over, I'd train differently," she said. "I'd do more long runs. I fade at the end." She didn't really. Isphording was simply the race's fastest finisher. "I got to know her this week," said Larsen. "If anyone had to pass me, I'm glad it was her."
Isphording finished a joyous third, in 2:32:26. "I only realized it for sure with a half mile to go," she said, salt streaks across her cheeks. "It was like a dream. You know how you always dream something to be absolutely perfect?"
Larsen was fourth in 2:33:10 and was named first alternate for L.A. "I'm pleased, I really am," she said. "O.K., that separating line between third and fourth is hard, but you can't be unhappy with fourth." An innate Olympian.
Margaret Groos was fifth in 2:33:38, becoming second alternate. Five more women broke 2:35. The natural conclusion for one witnessing the trial's flood of close finishers was that the L.A. organizing committee ought to take all the places in the Olympic marathon that were abandoned by the Eastern bloc countries and fill them with the fastest in the world, regardless of nation. Surely that would mean several from this revealing race.
Benoit hung on to win in 2:31:04, and fell into the arms of Sevene. Both were shaking with the emotion of her effort. Words came hard. "The greatest damn athlete in the world," said Sevene.
"I feel I've really been tested," said Benoit. "The knee, the operation, the hamstring, the emotional ups and downs. Somehow, with all the people who helped, all the people who love me, I made it. I can't believe it. Now I'm looking forward to two months of solid training."