A few months after his father's death, Joaquim ran an 800 in Rio.
"I have had two big emotional occasions in my life," says de Oliveira. "One, of course, was his gold medal. The other was his race in Rio. I asked him to run the first 400 in 53. He did 52.1 thought, 'He'll never make it.' Then the 600 was 1:18. He hadn't slowed at all. I thought, 'He can't handle that pace.' But he kept right on. He ran 1:44.3, at age 18, a world junior record."
In the evening, when everyone had calmed down, de Oliveira told Joaquim it was time to leave Brazil.
In one race, the youngster had outgrown his pond. De Oliveira found this hard to explain to Brazilian officials. "The government sports department gave him $300 a year," says de Oliveira. "And after he ran his 1:47, when he was 17, I went to Mr. Helio Babo of the Brazilian Federation to ask for some gas money to take athletes to Piano Piloto for training. He said, ' Joaquim Cruz can be a good athlete. Not like Joao Carlos de Oliveira [the triple jumper, unrelated to Luiz] who went to Moscow the world-record holder and only got bronze.' So you see the kind of guy he is, Helio Babo. He is possessive. He is insatiable."
Babo flatly opposed Joaquim's leaving Brazil. When de Oliveira revealed plans for both runner and coach to go to Brigham Young, where de Oliveira planned to work toward a master's degree, Babo said it would be the end of Joaquim. "He said it would destroy his career, and I would be responsible for everything. This was all published in the newspapers. It was a bad time."
De Oliveira sold his car and furniture to pay for his first semester's tuition and his family's tickets to Provo. Agberto Guimaraes, the 1980 Olympic 800 finalist who now is coached by de Oliveira, had attended BYU and made the arrangements. But when Cruz arrived, he was already injured. He had been born with his right leg shorter than his left. "I always thought he'd have back problems because of it," says de Oliveira. "But he had foot problems instead."
Too, he found it hard to train in the snowy Utah Rockies. "I kind of think of Provo now as Shangri-la," says Cruz, grinning. "No one there seemed to talk about the outside world."
"The people were wonderful to us," says de Oliveira, "but we decided to study other places." Nike representative Geoff Hollister recommended that James look at Cruz's foot in Eugene, and while doing that, they in turn looked at Eugene. "It was rainy, but you could be out in it and train," says de Oliveira.
Three months later they moved to Eugene, and Cruz started studying for the English test he needed to pass to get into the university. His foot surgery was done not by James but by Dr. Don Baxter of Houston, in July 1982. The next six months were the lowest of Cruz's life. And of de Oliveira's, who knew he had no future in Brazil if Cruz didn't recover.
Cruz failed the Oregon admissions test three times, yet he never was tempted to give up and go home. "Luiz asked me if I wanted to go back," says Cruz. "I said, 'No, you go if you want. I'm going to stay. I'm still alive.' I would have stayed 10 years if that's what it took. I never give up goals. Learning English and getting into school were my goals. If I had given up on them and gone back...I don't know what would have happened."