Cruz was far from foolhardy. In the final he again followed the pace of Koech past the 400, but in a more modest 51.1. Cruz took the lead for good at the top of the last turn, with about 100 meters to go. By the finish he was five yards clear of the straining Coe, with Earl Jones, of the U.S., third. "Thank god it's over," was his first thought.
He took a victory lap that concluded with a long embrace of de Oliveira, and was presented with the only Olympic gold medal ever won by a Brazilian runner. With the victory he now had a chance to become the first to win the 800-1,500 double since New Zealand's Peter Snell in 1964.
Three days later, looking fine, he won his first heat of the 1,500 in 3:41.01, beating Steve Scott of the U.S. But the day after that, he scratched from the semifinal. He had caught a bad cold from a roommate after the 800. Medication had not helped. Coe went on to win the 1,500 final in an Olympic record 3:32.53, becoming the first man ever to repeat as 1,500-meter champion.
Cruz's countrymen didn't care. One gold medal was enough. A baby found abandoned in a basket in S�o Paulo was at once given the name Joaquim Cruz. But the Brazilian officials who had said Cruz was doomed if he left the country didn't take kindly to his showing them to be so magnificently wrong. They sputtered that he had disgraced their nation by not running the 1,500. They made him out to be a conspirator. "It appears that a mercenary like Luiz Alberto de Oliveira," said Babo in Rio, "wants to make the athlete into only a commercial vehicle. He was afraid that if the athlete didn't finish first because of his cold, Cruz would lose the value of the gold medal already won. This would diminish the share of exhibition dollars he'd make abroad [on the European track circuit]. The coach prevented the athlete from fighting for one more medal for Brazil, which I find sad and shameful."
The charge showed not only stunning spitefulness but also how out of touch Babo was. Had coach and runner really based their actions strictly on Cruz's financial interest, he would have run the 1,500. The nature of shoe contracts is that a gold medal brings a bonus, but a second gold brings a far larger one. A real mercenary would have risked his health and the whole European tour for that 1,500 win. Too, a real mercenary's coach would have had a deal with his athlete which gave him a cut of the winnings. De Oliveira has never taken a penny to coach, counsel or represent Cruz or any of his other athletes. Since January 1984 he's been paid by Nike to coach. The decision not to run the 1,500 semi had been made by Cruz after four days of illness and little sleep. The two men met at noon before the semifinal. Cruz was a wreck, but de Oliveira had urged him to at least try the semifinal.
"I know I could get into the final," Cruz had said. "But think of tomorrow. There'd be more expectation, I'd be just as sick or worse, and I'd be taking someone else's place."
"That's it," said de Oliveira. "I'm not going to force you." These two men so astronomically lucky even to find each other, let alone take each other so far, decided they wouldn't allow what they had done to be stained by those who didn't or wouldn't understand. "Sport isn't war," de Oliveira would say later. "You don't have to die for your country. Sport is about being well and doing your best."
Cruz is indeed well, having resumed his drills, which de Oliveira still directs. "You see, I was serious about doing it all for him," Cruz pants, as the coach calls the cadence. "And there is more to do."
That means he has set his new goals. Achilles willing, it won't be long before world-record holders Coe (3:47.33 for the mile, 1:41.73 for the 800) and Ovett (3:30.77 for the 1,500) are the ones holding their breath.