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The Golden Mile: The torch is passed
Kenny Moore
March 13, 1980
On a mild, midsummer's evening, Sebastian Coe took the world record in the mile from John Walker. The author traces the threads of motive and commitment that led to Oslo
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March 13, 1980

The Golden Mile: The Torch Is Passed

On a mild, midsummer's evening, Sebastian Coe took the world record in the mile from John Walker. The author traces the threads of motive and commitment that led to Oslo

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Had Haukvik known the thinking of Scott and Wessinghage, he might have relaxed and enjoyed the ham. "Thomas and I went off under the apple trees and made a plan," says Scott. "More than wanting to win at any cost, we wanted to run a fast time. We assumed they'd get someone to lead for two laps. Then I would take the third lap and push it hard, and Thomas would take it going into the last quarter, and we'd both sprint with 200 to go." Scott was so serious that he told Wessinghage, "If there is no early rabbit, I'm going to take the pace out from the start."

The British press, which had been caught flat-footed by Coe's 800-meter record, was out in force. "Why are you here, if it's not a special occasion?" a reporter asked Peter Coe at Haukvik's party, because Sebastian's father had not attended the earlier race.

"He can run 800s perfectly well on his own," said Peter, "because he's an 800-meter runner. But he's not yet a miler. We've come to learn."

To one side, Masback, in perfect earnest, was predicting a fast race, one that would have eight men under 3:53. An NBC camera crew thought this very funny. Peter Coe didn't crack a smile. "I like that Masback," he said. "An intelligent man."

Out on the lawn a factory representative with a trunk full of lovely Norwegian sweaters was offering them to the athletes at half price. "I experienced some anxiety," says Masback. "Should I buy one when I knew they gave them as prizes for the first six? Finally Haukvik said if you do a personal record, they're free. So I said at least I'll get that and went away to eat all the strawberries I could."

Back in the hotel, Williamson, who had also resisted Haukvik's entreaties to set the pace, sat down with his roommate, Brendan Foster, a magically astute judge of runners. Before them they had a list of the field. "We got it down to Coe and Scott, really," Williamson says. "For a year I had felt that Coe was capable of a big mile. Coghlan had to be tired from his 5,000. Walker was not at his best, and Wessinghage seldom comes off well in a big race. I never expected anything of Masback."

The 19-year-old Williamson looked up at the 31-year-old Foster. "What do you think?" he asked.

"I'd bet you third," said Foster.

The morning was cool and calm with a moist fog over the fjord. One by one the milers rose and stretched and headed out for their easy morning runs. At the far end of the lake Coghlan met Coe, who turned and joined him. Both are men who save their nervous energy for races, so it was not a strained occasion. "Just communing with nature," says Coghlan.

Lacy was communing with himself. For five days he'd had strep throat and a temperature. This morning it was down to 99". "When I got up I felt runnable," he says. "I managed to do a couple of miles without coughing and hacking. I was hoping that I'd experienced a miraculous recovery. I hadn't, but at least I figured I could run safely."

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