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The nearer the race, the more time dragged, "it was just an excruciatingly long day," says Masback, "filled with waiting and vapid conversations. Finally we got on the bus to the stadium early, just to get moving. Walker was wry, unusually funny, unusually relaxed."
Walker felt the best he could possibly expect of himself was 3:53 or 3:54. He had watched Coe's 800 record run and knew what he had seen. "Unlike what was written so much in 1976," he says, "someone who is big and heavy like me is limited in what he can do, but a light-framed, speedy runner like Coe will not have much trouble carrying his speed over a mile."
Coe and Moorcroft, another Loughborough graduate, took a car to the track with Peter Coe and Miklos Nemeth, the Olympic javelin champion from Hungary. Also in the car was Bela Domoks, a Hungarian photographer who had defected to England in 1956. Domoks began talking to Nemeth about how Hungarian magazines never paid for his pictures. "Gradually Bela began lecturing him," says Coe. "Nemeth's neck grew red as it got beyond a lecture. It wasn't the most relaxing way to collect one's thoughts."
Once at Bislett, which is alongside the large and fragrant Frydenlund brewery near the city center, the does were taken onto the field and put up on the awards stand, where Peter presented a gold medal to his son for the 800-meter record. The 16,173 fans filling the stands applauded. Coe, graceful in a tan sweat suit, waved in thanks, seemingly calm.
"How do you run a world record?" asks Peter Coe. "You compress all your baser urges into one minute and 42 seconds of running, inside, the man is as ruthless as they come."
The warmup area at Bislett is odd, a little flat and dusty space inside the fence at the top of a grassy slope. Coe sat there for a while, keeping an eye on Foster's sweats as he and Dixon dueled in the two-mile, Dixon winning in a fine 8:15.2. "I just soaked up the hum, the general excitement of the crowd," says Coe. "Once I came down to the parking area behind the stand and was nabbed by Charlie Jones of NBC. He asked me about Miranda's legs. He has a thing about her legs. I said, 'They're prettier than mine, but not as fast,' and escaped back to the warmup level."
Moorcroft went to the side of the track during his warmup to watch Crete Waitz win the women's 3,000 in 8:31.8, the second fastest ever. "The atmosphere in there was electric," he says. "The track only has six lanes and the banking of the stands is so steep you feel the crowd is on top of you."
Coghlan went to a little park three-quarters of a mile away to do his 40 minutes of jogging and stretching. Scott, who had sat with the pole vaulters, warmed up inside the stadium, doing increasingly rapid 100-meter strides down the backstretch.
Williamson ran slowly around the outside, trying to convince himself that the only reason he didn't feel good was because he was wearing two sweat suits. "When I got out on the track to do strides I felt better," he says. "I stared at Coe's father, wondering what he could be thinking about me." It was a natural thought, as the craggy senior Coe is known to seek the iron in a runner. "I want to see what the bastards are made of," he had said in sending Sebastian out to drive the pace in the 1978 European Championship 800.
Now, as he watched his son lace on his spikes, he was feeling what he had denied over strawberries the night before. "I knew something special was happening," he says. "Normally we have little to say to one another right before a race. But I was caught up. I said, 'You know, you can win this.' "