The two 1,600-meter relays were occasions for that other consequence of Olympic pressure, the urge to cheat. Unlike swimming, track rules require the makeup of a relay team to stay the same through heats and finals. The only reason for substitution is authenticated illness or injury. To give their best runners an extra day of rest, the Soviets entered the heats with teams different from those that would appear in the finals. The result was Soviet wins over East Germany: 3:20.2 to 3:20.4 for the women, as fresh Irina Nazarova held off open 400 champion Marita Koch, and 3:01.1 to 3:01.3 for the men, as fresh Viktor Markin, the 400 champion, withstood 400-meter hurdle champion Volker Beck. The question the Soviets weren't answering was why these runners weren't on the original teams, saying only that no rules had been violated. "Yes, we have the Soviet medical certificates," said an International Amateur Athletic Federation official, "but we are not too happy about it."
That was because by then the IAAF, the overseer of the track and field events in the Games, was open to charges of laxity in keeping Soviet officials honest. Traditionally, red-coated IAAF men are stationed on the infield during the Olympics, to observe and make rulings. "But the Soviets asked that we not be on the field this time," said Amadeo Francis of Puerto Rico. "They felt it looked like we were suspicious of them."
So IAAF President Adriaan Paulen agreed to pull his men off, and then some very suspicious things began happening. After Soviet javelin thrower Dainis Kula had fouled twice and needed a fair throw to make the final cut, he got off a long one that clearly landed tail first, by the rules another foul. But the Soviet officials marked it fair, and Kula won the event with his next throw of 299'2". Soviet pole-vault officials also were accused by some vaulters in the qualifying of holding their flags higher when U.S.S.R. competitors were preparing to vault, so they might judge the wind. And in the triple jump there seemed a good case of a Western athlete being robbed.
Ian Campbell of Australia, a senior at Washington State, had qualified first in the preliminaries. On his third try in the finals, he got off a gorgeous jump of at least 57'5". If fair it would have won. But to his and Australia's consternation, a judge along the runway said Campbell had dragged his non-jumping foot and ruled it a foul. Campbell finished fifth.
Ron Pickering, coach of the 1964 long-jump champion Lynn Davies, was the expert commentator for British TV. "I ran the tape of that jump at every speed," he said, "and I could never see any contact of that foot or even any break in rhythm it would have caused. And the more I looked, the more I could see it was one of the great jumps of history." Paulen viewed the tape and let the decision stand, but subsequently gave in to pleas from his IAAF officials and allowed them back on the field, whereupon things settled down.
The final day of track and field seemed to offer the most vivid images of the Games, and for an American the most wistful. Here was East Germany's defending champion Waldemar Cierpinski in the marathon, taking the lead with four miles to go in the caramelly sweet atmosphere near the Red October Confectionary Factory and striding home so strongly that he was without question a deserving winner. Yet how could one not miss Bill Rodgers or Tony Sandoval?
Here was Tatyana Kazankina of the U.S.S.R., also a 1976 champion, running her last 800 meters in 1:59 to win the 1,500 in 3:56.6. What might Mary Decker have done against her?
No one could have beaten Miruts Yifter of Ethiopia. The 5'3½", 115-pound father of six added the 5,000-meter gold to the one he had taken in the 10,000. Tanzania's Suleiman Nyambui was close, 13:21.6 to Yifter's winning 13:21.0, but once Yifter was ahead with 300 to go he was in control. Ireland's Eamonn Coghlan gave all he had, but for a second straight Games did no better than fourth. "I must be near some record for disappointment," he said, but then he spoke of races to come in future weeks, compelling miles against Bayi and Coe and Ovett and Steve Scott, and one knew he was unbroken.
As the athletes flowed out of Lenin Stadium on that last long twilight, past leaping Ethiopian tribal dancers, to the Village where Eastern Europeans were greedily filling sacks with precious fruit to take home, where the British celebration ended with Sebastian Coe covered head to foot in talcum powder, the mood seemed a reflection of Coe's own dominant emotion at his golden moment—that of sublime relief.
"It is intoxicating just having it over," said Peter Coe. "I don't even plan on seeing the grand Russian pomp of the closing ceremonies. No, the last thing I want to remember about these Games is that picture of elation as Seb crossed the line, a man who had borne up and gone out and done exactly what he had set himself. You can hang the rest."