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"They may be the two best indoor runners ever at this event," Jumbo said. "You have mixed emotions but, of course, you're for the kid you've got now."
As the race began, both Paige and Belger hung back; then they surged ahead with two laps to go. Belger kicked, but Paige kicked harder and came home first in 2:21.6, .4 second ahead of his former teammate. Jumbo smiled. It was a nice race. Jumbo likes nice races, particularly those with slam-bang, come-from-behind finishes—especially those that involve relays, groups of runners, the whole Villanova team. Such a feast occurred at last year's NCAA Indoor Championships in Detroit.
Twenty-fifth in the team standings with only two points after the first day of competition, Villanova began to make its move with six events to go on the second and final day. Tufariello won the 600, the Villanova distance medley team placed third, Paige won the 1,000. Then, in the mile, Maree and Korir finished second and third behind meet-leading UTEP's Suleiman Nyambui. But their combined 14 points were five more than UTEP got for Suleiman's first. With only the mile relay to go, it was apparent that if Villanova won that event, the Wildcats would win by a point.
Jumbo, sitting on a folding chair outside one of the turns, did not gather his mile-relay team together for a pep talk. There wasn't time and, besides, he seldom does that anyway. The last time he had called a team meeting it was for an entirely different reason. "He told some jokes, and then he got serious," recalls Paige. "First he said, 'Why don't you guys smile more?' Then he told us to please say 'yes' or 'yessir' instead of'yeah.' "
The relay team held a meeting of its own, at which there was a brief, silent prayer, and then won the race by half a second.
The four relay runners whooped and hollered, but in a subdued way. One by one they came over to Jumbo, shook his hand and said, "Congratulations, Mr. Elliott." Jumbo, perhaps wondering where to put yet another trophy, was outwardly subdued, too, but his eyes were damp.
Les Wallack, the Rutgers track coach, tells this story: "There was an incident last year during the indoor season, not long before that same NCAA meet. A quarter-miler—I won't mention his name or his school—beat Villanova in a relay, and as he crossed the finish line he made an Obscene gesture at Tim Dale, the Villanova anchor man. Tim said nothing, just walked away. Then at the IC4As it was reversed. Villanova beat the other team easily. After the race, the Villanova guys said nothing to the other kid. They hugged each other for a moment—you could see how happy they were—and then they just walked away. Wow, it gave me chills. What class."