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Rono, who got married on April 19, originally was supposed to arrive in the States on April 18. When he didn't appear, Bright and Gordon Cooper, a friend of Rono, began to worry. Bright asked Cooper for a phone number so he could call Rono in Kenya. Cooper explained that that would be difficult because Rono doesn't have a telephone.
The only way to reach Rono in his hometown of Kapsabet, said Cooper, starts with a New York operator getting in touch with a Nairobi operator. The Nairobi operator then calls the operator in the district capital, Nakuru, who in turn gets in touch with an operator in a neighboring town called Eldoret, who finally puts the call through to Kapsabet. Experience has taught Cooper that the only time all the lines necessary to make this connection are open is after 8 p.m. Kenya time, and then you have to work fast, because the Eldoret operator goes to sleep at nine. Once through to Kapsabet, Cooper speaks to the postmaster, telling him to have Rono return the call.
The postmaster in Kapsabet doesn't deliver the mail. He just hands it out if you happen to drop by, so several days can elapse before Rono gets his message. But when a week went by and Bright and Cooper still hadn't heard, they began to panic. After what Cooper estimates was more than $100 in phone calls, he was connected with Rono at the Nairobi Hilton, where he had taken his wife for a honeymoon. "What is wrong?" asked Rono calmly when he heard Cooper's anxious tone. He then explained that he was being delayed by difficulty in gathering all the papers necessary for his new wife to follow him to America.
Cooper insisted that Rono would be better off getting off the plane and running than arriving a day early and getting a good night's sleep. He noted that Rono would be chasing the night westward and might have as much as 12 hours of sleep on the flight. One of Far Hills' well-heeled citizens offered to send his helicopter to JFK to get Rono to the race on time. "That's my dream," said Dick Buerkle, the former indoor world-record holder in the mile and a contestant in the Midland. "I want to get so good they send a helicopter to bring me to the race."
The helicopter wasn't necessary. Cooper shepherded Rono from the airport to the starting line by car. Rono kept right on going, leading the field at the start as it surged across a wide field of Moorland Farms before spilling onto the town's roads. But on the road, Rono began to drop back. Then, shortly before the three-mile mark, as the lead pack headed downhill, Meyer made a move to break away. Only Lindsay and Viren went with him, and suddenly the Midland Run was a three-man race.
Meyer started to fade after the sixth mile, which the three ran in a speedy 4:27. Now it was a duel between Lindsay and Viren. "Lasse was tough," Lindsay admitted later. "He put in some real surges. He was hammering on me. I had the accelerator to the floorboard."
For the 25-year-old Lindsay to be racing head to head with a four-time gold medalist would have seemed pure fantasy a year ago. He is the sixth of six children, and when his widowed mother married a widower with six kids he became the 12th of 12—eventually the 12th of 15. He went to Michigan State on a track scholarship, where he ran mostly relays, but failed to make a name for himself. His best performance was a fourth in the 1976 NCAA cross-country, which was won by a Washington State freshman named Henry Rono.
After graduation in 1977, Lindsay taught elementary school physical education in Okemos, Michigan. He kept running, hoping to make the 1980 Olympics, but it seemed unlikely that he would ever progress beyond the local level. Eventually, against the advice of family and friends, he packed up his wife Terry, moved to Boulder, took a part-time job and began to concentrate on his training. Lindsay had seldom run more than 75 miles a week. In Colorado he began to put in up to 125 miles. Last July he won a silver medal in the 5,000 at the Pan Am Games. Then, starting in late August, he won five straight road races to earn his No. 1 ranking. In the Midland, Lindsay called on his new confidence to hold off Viren and then sprinted home to beat the Finn by 40 meters in 43:54. Meyer was third, while Quax finished seventh in 44:54, the last man to break the 45-minute barrier.
Rono merely finished. It didn't take him as long as the trip from Nairobi, but it took him longer than a lot of the women, including Lyons, who won by more than a minute in 51:50. Gareau, in her first non-marathon performance, was fourth in 53:43.
Lindsay still hopes to make the 1980 Olympic team in the 10,000, but he admitted, "I like road racing better than the track." Why not? He is a celebrity of the road after years of anonymity on the track, and he clearly likes being the center of attention.