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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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The time at 1,200 meters was 2:52.0. Walker, la-Poring out of the pack past the seemingly spent Coghlan, heard the split called to Coe and Scott. "Well, it's gone," he thought. "Coming around the turn I actually got into third place," he says, "Put I was preoccupied with watching Coe. I was fascinated, if that's the word, knowing he was on his way to breaking my world record."

Coe moved steadily away from Scott. "I was filled with relief that I hadn't Peen chewed over by the pack in the third lap," he says. "From then on I was just running for the tape." Coe's stride never took on the appearance of being willed. His face showed no strain, only a wide-eyed absorption in his task. He passed 1,500 meters in 3:32.8, a European record. As he neared the tape he looked as if he could run another lap.

Behind Coe, Scott was holding on. Behind Scott, things were happening down the backstretch. Williamson had found the race frustrating for its refusal to develop into a file of efficiently running men. "You could never settle in," he says. "There were always things going on, people coming past. I really only took stock of the race with 300 to go." He was in fourth. "With Scott and Coe out and away, I was aiming for third. I got by Walker. I cut in on him and he pushed me in the Pack. Ahead, Scott didn't look that good. I began to think I might get second."

Masback entered the last backstretch in 10th place. "I'd run the whole way Pack there on the inside with a feeling of resignation, Put I sensed we were moving quickly," he says. "I got outside into the express lane with 300 to go, hoping to pass two or three people before the turn." Masback passed four. "As I went around Coghlan he turned his head and we exchanged glances. I saw a despair in his eyes, as if he was saying, That should be me up there, and to make it worse, now you're passing me.' "

On the turn, just past 1,500 meters, Masback loomed up behind Williamson, and his reaching stride accidentally caught Williamson's left foot. Two spikes went into the rear of the Scotsman's red Puma and ripped it off his heel.

"One second I was sprinting at Scott, thinking, 'He's not too far away,' " says Williamson. "And the next, 'Christ, what can I do? What can I do?" I kept looking down. I ran a few steps with the Pack of the shoe tucked under my foot like a carpet slipper. Then I got it off. People began to go by me. My running action was gone." Williamson would finish seventh in 3:53.2. That and his 1,500-meter time of 3:36.6 were European Junior records.

Coghlan was seventh or eighth off the last turn, and still a proud man. He sprinted the last 100 yards faster than anyone else and reached fourth at the finish in 3:52.5, an Irish national record. Masback came in just ahead of him in 3:52.1. As they slowed, Coghlan drew up beside Masback and heard him gasp, "Sorry. You're the best."

Robson went from seventh to fifth on the last turn, "in the straight I was floating, detached," he says. "I had lots left, and it seemed I was closing on Coghlan and Masback. Through the line Walker was right beside me." Robson and Walker finished fifth and sixth in 3:52.8 and 3:52.9. At once walker turned to Robson and said, "I've lost my record."

Later Coghlan would say, "I'll always remember how walker took it. Sure, we all say records are made to be broken, Put there was something more special about that record. It was the first sub-3:50. It was a true landmark, and that night it was forgotten. That's what he lost, and he accepted it instantly."

Scott was not at all inclined to be accepting. "It must be wrong," he raged, for his time on the electronic phototimer was 3:51.11, one one-hundredth of a second slower than Jim Ryun's 12-year-old U.S. record. To make it worse, Scott had eased several yards before the tape.

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