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The plan was simple. After Eamonn Coghlan of Ireland, Dr. Thomas Wessinghage of West Germany and Steve Scott of the U.S. finished the mile in last Friday's Sunkist Invitational meet in Los Angeles, they would warm down, be driven to a waiting Lear jet and fly to Houston, there to run in a "Miracle Mile" the following afternoon at the Brooks Invitational in the Astrodome. "And then we'll all sit down and watch Mary Decker steal our thunder again," said Coghlan, whose premonitions, as we shall see, were eerily acute.
Even before the milers got on the track in L.A., the meet had been a splendid one, with Henry Rono running the fastest two-mile in the world this year (8:21.7), Mike Boit the half-mile (1:48.6) and Franklin Jacobs high jumping 7'6", a 1980 American best. Rono, who married his high school sweetheart in Kenya in December and then raced like the Rono of old in New Zealand and Australia in January, misread his meet schedule and so found himself sitting in the stands five minutes before the two-mile. The start was delayed so that he might get his spikes on. Using the first mile and a half as a warmup, Rono found himself trailing Larry Lawson of the Santa Monica Track Club. Then, exploding past Lawson, he was suddenly lithe and powerful in the turns, alternately grimacing and blowing hard through pinched lips as he drove on and on. Within three laps he had an 80-yard lead. Rono covered the last half mile in 1:59 and put 11.3 seconds between himself and runner-up Jerald Jones, also of the Santa Monica TC. "I am very happy with the time," he said. "If I had been warmed up, perhaps I could have done 8:15."
Rono's countryman, Boit, followed with his sparkling victory in the 880. "Someone stepped on me at the start," he said. "I do not like that." As a remedy, Boit led wire to wire and seems to be returning to the form that made him the Montreal Olympic co-favorite at 800 meters with Cuba's Alberto Juantorena. That was before the African boycott took him out of the 1976 Games, so naturally Boit has been asked to address a lot of Rotary clubs on the subject of Olympic boycotts. "I am asked what Kenya will do," he said. "I don't know. I think we are more Westernized than we are Easternized, so we might follow you out. But it is unpleasant, always to be thinking about it and have nothing to do about it."
At one point both Jacobs and Mike Tully were doing all they could to get world records in vertical jumps. Jacobs had the high jump bar set at 7'8�", a full two feet above his head, and took one respectable try at it after consultations with at least three coaches scattered around the Sports Arena.
After winning the pole vault at 18 feet, Tully went for 18'6�", a centimeter higher than the recent indoor world record of the U.S.S.R.'s 19-year-old Konstantin Volkov. He missed twice and said, "My run is dying at the end. I think I could make it if I weren't exhausted." Then he ran at it again and almost surprised himself, barely scraping the bar off with his chest.
The first half of the mile was fast and even, with Malcolm Cleary of the Santa Monica TC leading, in order, Coghlan, Tanzania's Filbert Bayi, Steve Lacy of the Angels Flight Striders, Wessinghage and Scott past the 440 in 57.8 and the 880 in 1:57.2, compared to splits of 58.5 and 1:57.0 in Coghlan's world-record run of 3:52.6 in San Diego last year. But then the rabbit, Cleary, though looking strong, abruptly stepped off the track, leaving a startled Coghlan in the lead. He looked to his right for Bayi, who indeed wanted to take the pace, but stumbled slightly before accelerating. It was a lap of the 160-yard track before Bayi could get in front. In that time Coghlan hesitated. "The pace has to be kept even," he would say later in acknowledging these as the moments when a new record was lost.
With three laps to go, Lacy charged ahead. "I felt good. I was going to take my shot. But I was worried about not having enough speed," he said. The three-quarter mile was passed in 2:57.1, and with 250 yards to run, Coghlan sprinted hard and at once proved Lacy's fears correct. Scott then came out of fourth, and the only question over the last lap was whether he could catch Coghlan.
Scott took the last turn perfectly, going slightly wide and shooting down the slope into the straightaway. Coghlan has said after winning races, "There was more kick left had I needed it." He needed it now and, sure enough, it was there. Open-mouthed and eyes skyward, he hit the tape still a couple of feet ahead of Scott. Their times were 3:52.9 and 3:53.0, respectively, the second-and third-fastest ever run indoors, and an American record for Scott.
"I should have gone all out on the whole last lap," he said while Coghlan trotted a circuit or two of joyful relief. When they shook hands, Eamonn Coghlan's first words were, "Well done," and surely the commendation extended to Bayi in third with 3:54.5, his best ever indoors, and Lacy in fourth with 3:55.6. The times augmented the satisfying impression of a bravely fought, competitive race, and there this story might sensibly have ended, except for those promises to appear in Houston. Coghlan tempered his happiness with the win by imagining runners lying in wait for the morrow. "Just remember," he said. " John Walker is already asleep by now."
As scheduled, Coghlan, Scott and Wessinghage, who had placed fifth in 4:00.6, quickly got to the airport, where they learned that the jet promised by Brooks Meet Director Ron Stanko was snowed in at Boulder. "They said take a commercial flight," reported Coghlan. "One that was to leave at midnight and was delayed to 1 a.m. The clerk said even that was chancy. I decided to skip the meet. My heart was not in abusing my body." Coghlan returned to his hotel while Scott and Wessinghage kept their airport vigil. They finally took off at 2:30 and reached Houston just after 7. Wessinghage was a good sport. "Five years from now I can meet Steve Scott and say, 'Remember that night we flew to Texas?' and we'll laugh."