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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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Australia's Hall passed some time reading a book on English history. Ishii of Japan took a long walk among the evergreens, feeling honored. "I knew I wasn't fast enough to win," he says, "but I was tremendously elated to be given this chance to see how I measured up to the best men in the world." For Ishii, it was like being dropped into an Olympic final, and his assessment of his opponents was fascinating. "I believed Coe would not win because he was specializing in the 800," he says. "Coghlan is basically a long-distance racer with great staying power. He is not too strong a sprinter in the homestretch." Had Ishii asserted this to Walker, Wessinghage, Scott, Lacy, Robson, Moorcroft or Masback, all of whom had been cut down by Coghlan in the last hundred yards of races, he would have caused a sensation. In fact, Coghlan's potent kick was the reason Peter Coe felt the pace would be swift. "Out of a dozen intelligent men there must be several who don't care to wait around and have Eamonn outsprint them," he said.

Scott and Lacy took the rattling wooden tram from the hotel to the city center and walked again to the Soviet Embassy, where Scott was told his visa still had not come in.

(Scott would never make it to Russia. But after the Golden Mile, Masback, staying with an aunt in Paris, would pay his own insistent visits to the Soviet Embassy there. He recalls, "Finally on the fourth day the guy said, 'Are you Edwin Moses?' I said no. 'Do you know Edwin Moses?' I said sure. 'O.K., Were is visa.' " Masback then placed second in the spartakiade 1,500.)

From the embassy they went to the SAS offices to have Scott's and Kim Votaw's tickets changed to go south. "There were long lines," says Scott. "We waited half an hour, then said screw it and went back to the hotel to have something to eat." Five hours before race time they looked at the menu and settled for spaghetti.

"They only had five things in the restaurant," says Masback. "Fish, hamburger, Wiener schnitzel, fried chicken and spaghetti. And there were some unclear but heated personal problems among the kitchen staff. Our food was always served by sullen or tear-streaked waitresses."

Coe had relaxed for an hour reading Mao's little red book of quotations, which he had brought from Sheffield. "I found it very funny," he says. "The masses' inexhaustible lust for socialism." Then he and his father had been taken by a photographer to pose on the heights of the Holmenkollen ski jump. They cooperated, climbing hundreds of feet up and down the structure, but felt slightly used. The photograph of Sebastian now in his album shows him standing with a pair of skis and a certain wrinkled-nose discontent. The picture of his father shows ashen terror. "That must have added two seconds to whatever you'll run," he said as they regained level ground.

At midday they lunched and laid the race plan. "We had a slight difference of opinion," Sebastian says. "I thought there might be some stuffing around." But his father assured him it would be fast all the way, and thus the best tactic was not to lead but to get a good position and stay close to the front. "There was no talk of a world record," says Peter. "It was to be run competitively. The aim was simply to win the race."

Sebastian's concern was for the third lap. "When you figure 57 seconds per quarter is six seconds slower than my 800-meter pace," he says, "it wasn't going to feel too hard at first. But those stamina men were going to come on in that third quarter."

Walker had reached Oslo only the day before, having been delayed by leaving his passport in London. He and Williamson had a chat in the hotel lobby. Walker said he was making no excuses, but his Achilles tendon problems had left him short of racing fitness. He had a cold and was taking penicillin.

"I didn't feel he should've been talking to me in such a way," says Williamson. "Who was I, anyway? He certainly didn't seem the big, confident athlete I knew."

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