The reason Padilla is two years behind in school is that from February 1976 to February 1978 he was in El Salvador, paying most of his own expenses and working 10 hours a day as a proselytizing Mormon missionary. "There was unrest, though not as bad as now," Padilla says. "Most people were congenial, but sometimes they slammed doors in our faces or threw rocks. A lot of times they cursed. They thought we worked for the CIA, too. They'd see us and yell, '�La cia! �La cia!' That was funny, because cia in Spanish is pronounced the same as silla, the Spanish word for chair. We'd shout back, �La mesa! �La mesa!'—the table."
While serving as a missionary, Padilla managed only an occasional morning run, which was more fun than serious effort. Padilla had placed 13th in the two-mile at the 1974 California state high school meet and won the 1975 Northern California junior college mile title (4:10.7) but he joined the BYU team as a walk-on in 1975 after a year at Chabot College in Hayward, Calif. "Chabot and Cal. State-Hayward recruited me. That was about it," he said. After returning from his mission, Padilla improved enough to finish sixth in the NCAA 5,000 last spring and 15th in the NCAA crosscountry championships last fall. This winter, just before he ran a 3:56.6 mile in San Francisco, he defeated Nyambui for the first time, in the Sunkist two-mile at Los Angeles. "You should have seen Nyambui's face when he finished," says Padilla. "He looked like the boy caught with a hand in the cookie jar—'Oh, oh, I wasn't supposed to do that.' " Nyambui had much the same look three weeks ago when Padilla beat him again, this time for the WAC 3,000-meter championship.
In the 50 minutes between the end of the two-mile and the start of the mile, Padilla got a rubdown and a brief rest. Nyambui had been reminded by Banks that he didn't have to run the mile, because UTEP had clinched the team title. Recovered or not, required to or not, both runners lined up on the badly worn board track to race again.
This time Padilla dropped immediately into last, where he stayed for more than half the race. Nyambui kept himself in midpack through a 2:01.5 half, but by the time Luis Ostolozaga of Manhattan College carried the race into the final quarter, the UTEP junior was in second place, shoulder-sitting again. At the gun Padilla was up there, too, in third place, a few yards behind. However, as both Padilla and Nyambui flew past Ostolozaga on the backstretch, it was clear that the outcome would be different. Padilla would remain the pursuer, and Nyambui would hold on to first. The times: 4:01.85 for Nyambui, 4:01.96 for Padilla.
"I had more left in me than I thought," said Padilla. "I tried, but it was so bunched up in front of me I couldn't get by. You know, I'm really not sure I comprehend yet everything that's happened today." Padilla's confusion was understandable. Not only had he broken Nyambui's streak, but also in doing so he had become the first American to win an NCAA indoor distance crown since 1972. Between that and SMU's emergence, perhaps even UTEP's Banks found this year's championships a bit disconcerting.