private man, Ovett had on occasion spoken with a prickly candor. "The
British athletics press has this lazy, imperious attitude toward the
athletes," he said early in 1979. "We run our guts out on the track,
and if we've pleased them enough, we get a demand to attend the press box
interview room, like a royal command. But if we don't say what they expect us
to say, or we offend their sense of patriotism, we get branded as
arrogant." By 1979 Ovett had long been so branded. Unmoved, he carried on
with three workouts a day over the rolling Sussex downs near his Brighton
of Glasgow, Scotland, only 19, had a best of 3:55.8 and had been third in the
first Golden Mile the year before. For seven months Williamson had had a
tentative invitation to Oslo, but there had been no confirmation, it appeared
that with Ovett and Walker and Scott in the race, the promoters were waiting
until the last moment to complete the field. They wanted the fittest runners
and, because NBC-TV had bought rights to the race, a few Americans. "All
year I'd been planning to make this race the peak of my year," says
Williamson. "I arranged three weeks of training at altitude in Colorado as
final preparation." He returned to Scotland 12 days before the race.
"My training was going badly when I got home. One afternoon a week before
the race I was out doing four miles, and everything clicked." That was the
day that Norman called. "You're in," he said.
waiting were John Robson of Scotland and Dave Moorcroft of England, the
Commonwealth Games' 1,500-meter champion. Robson wasn't invited until after
he'd finished third in the British 1,500 on July 14-three days before the
Golden Mile. Moorcroft, who was fighting a hamstring injury and a bad cold,
didn't know whether to go to Oslo or not once he had been made welcome. "I
wasn't in the correct frame of mind," he says. "I was feeling sorry for
myself. Finally I decided to go out to the race with my wife. But even then I
was not sure about running."
Steve Lacy and
Craig Masback were two Americans who suspected they had been invited to satisfy
NBC. Masback had just completed two years at Trinity College, Oxford, where he
was a doctoral candidate in political science, in those years, training no more
than 40 miles per week, he had cut his mile time from 4:01.8 to 3:54.7. Despite
a furious spate of six races in eight days in early July, Masback was still
hungry and finagled an invitation a week before the race.
In a mile among
equals, the pacesetter rarely wins. Meet promoters, intent on encouraging fast
times, make sure to line up a journeyman rabbit for the first half-mile. The
Oslo promoters, though, were permitted no mere journeymen, only top class
milers. So they went looking for a runner to sacrifice. "Robson and I and
Williamson were almost told that if we didn't want to be the rabbit we couldn't
run," says Masback. Offended, they made no promises.
In the Bislett
Games in Oslo on July 5, Coghlan won the 3,000 meters in 7:39.1 and that night,
after speaking with Haukvik, finally agreed to run the Golden Mile, 12 days
later, in the same meet, England's Sebastian Coe destroyed Juantorena's
800-meter world record by a full second with a time of 1:42.4. It was the 32nd
world record set on the Bislett Stadium track.
about the 800 meters than the mile, the popular press found the 22-year-old Coe
remarkable mostly for his dark-haired good looks and for having a sister,
Miranda, who was a dancer in the Lido show in Las Vegas. But followers of
middle-distance running saw his 1:42.4 as a quantum leap forward; he had
lowered the 800-meter record by more than anyone since Peter Snell of New
Zealand, who cut 1.4 seconds from it with his 1:44.3 in 1962. Walker, whom
Coghlan had outkicked in the 3,000, was transfixed as he watched the 800.
"Coe looked like he could run under 1:40," he said. "He never tied
up at all. I think he could run a 3:51 mile right now." Privately, Walker
suspected Coe could do far faster.
Coe had just taken
his degree in economics from Loughborough University and was trained by his
father, Peter Coe, the production director for the cutlery firm of George
Butler, Ltd. of Sheffield. After the 800-meter record, Coe traveled north to
Tingvoll, Norway, to honor a commitment he had made earlier, before every
English radio and newspaperman could try to talk to him. "Mind you, it was
the best thing I could have done, because I missed all the press appeals,"
he says. "It was a tiny place, inside a fjord. They had a new surface on
the track, all silvery, something from the mines there. And the track itself
was undersized. In the 800 I remember being told, 'When you get to the red hut
at the corner there, it's two laps more.' " In a spray of soft silver
cinders, Coe won in 1:54.8 and then went home to receive his invitation to the
Coe and his father
had considered him primarily an 800-meter runner since he was 18. His training
had been designed with the aid of Loughborough physiologist George Gandy to
give him the springiness and speed of a quarter-miler, but about once a year he
ran a mile and showed no fear of even longer distances. He had beaten Coghlan
in a four-mile road race, and British Olympic 10,000-meter bronze medalist
Brendan Foster went so far as to say 5,000 meters might eventually be Coe's
That he could last
out a hard mile Coe proved to himself with an astounding workout a week before
the Golden Mile. On a carefully measured stretch of the Rivelin Valley Road
west of Sheffield, he did six 800-meter runs with 90-second recovery jogs
between them. "I don't remember all the times," he says, "but they
were 1:52s and 1:53s. The last one was 1:49.5."