So when the gun sent off the milers Saturday night, Flynn and East Tennessee State junior Ben Turpin, the race's rabbit, moved immediately to the front. Turpin's task was to carry the pack through the quarter in about 58 seconds and the half in 1:57. If he could somehow maintain that pace for three quarters, all the better.
Coghlan stayed within a stride of the two leaders, who hit the quarter in 58.5. Peter Lemashon of Texas-El Paso was fourth, with Paige a close fifth and Scott a few steps farther back. As they completed the second of the six laps, Scott was straining. "They announced, 'Four laps to go,' and I couldn't believe it," he said later. "I felt like we had already finished that many."
But Scott bulled forward, catching Paige and Lemashon before the next lap was completed. He hit the half-mile mark in 1:58.1, a full second behind pacesetter Turpin but only .3 in back of Coghlan. Turpin was now spent; he pulled off the track and left the lead to Flynn.
At three quarters, it was still Flynn, running the race of his life in 2:57.6. Coghlan was only a few yards behind and Scott was close, but Paige had faded 15 yards off the pace.
With the final lap, the crowd of 9,000 was on its feet, the roars for Flynn resounding in the vast arena. Scott had slipped past Coghlan into second and was running down the leader. With a spurt he was past Flynn on the backstretch. "I've lost so often to Scott in the past," Flynn said afterward, "that I figured it was over. But then I realized that Steve wasn't going anywhere. People were screaming, 'You've got him!' "
Flynn came wide off the last turn and drew closer, but not close enough. At the tape the gap was still two yards.
Scott finished in 3:54.50, a time that would equal seventh on the alltime indoor performance list had it not been for the paradoxical track. Flynn finished in 3:54.73. Paige was 3:57.52, and Coghlan, who had turned to clay over the final 200 yards, did a 3:59.10.
"Well, now I know exactly where I stand," said Coghlan, who previously had lost to Scott only twice indoors. "I found out on the last lap." Paige, at least, had one prospect to console him: his soon-to-be-announced ranking as the world's top 800-meter runner of 1980, ahead of Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett.
"After I went by Ray I died," Scott said. "If he'd made a slightly stronger move, he'd have caught me." The crowd was thinning as Scott had the last word. "Maybe these marks won't count because the track's so long, but...." He paused. "It was kind of fun."