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Of his own 13.03, the disconsolate Foster said, "It's a good time [indeed, it was the third-best time ever; no other hurdler besides these two has ever broken 13.21], but not good enough."
Later, Nehemiah sat with SI's Anita Verschoth and watched a replay of the race, giving a remarkably candid description of the willfulness that powers most world-class athletes. "A lot has to do with my ego," he said. "It just tells me no one should be next to me." And Nehemiah's imperatives don't operate only during the race. Of Foster, he said, "He ran the best race of his life and he lost. There is no way he can tell me that he had a cramp. You don't run a 13.03 with a cramp against the best in the world. I think he's a more emotional type, and I'm more realistic. He's hoping that he can do it. I have the knowledge of what my capabilities are. If he runs his best time against me, he should be happy. You may want to call it boasting, but I just believe in my heart that I'm the best hurdler. He was at his best, his ultimate, I think. So I had to dig down and win it. When I'm at my best, nobody can beat me."
Nehemiah, No. 1 in the world rankings for three years and still only 22, went on to say his ultimate goal for the race is 12.4 seconds. It is likely that such certainty is essential for success. What is confidence but the belief, before the fact, that something is possible? The arresting thing about Nehemiah is that he will so forcefully challenge the beliefs of another, that he will seek to crush Foster's confidence.
Two nights later they went to the line again, in Berlin's rain and 56� chill. Again Foster started well. "He beat me to the first hurdle," said Nehemiah. But Foster hit the second, lost rhythm, and Nehemiah caught him. "I saw him easing off," he said. Foster clobbered the fourth hurdle and pulled up, disgusted. Nehemiah rolled on to a 13.18. "Give him his due," said Nehemiah. "It could have been the rain on his glasses." Or it could have been Nehemiah's raw, unavoidable presence. It is as he says: "There is a battle going on between the milers, but the only real world-class feud is between Greg and myself."
It might be the same in the mile but for Coe's having no wish to feud, only to explore his own limits. Thus he seems to find it easy to ignore Ovett's way of scheduling a summer of races without meeting him. "My answer is always that I'm available," says Coe. But in the meantime, he wanted Ovett's mile and 1,500 records. With the help of Kenya's Mike Boit and Tom Byers, a former Ohio State miler, both of whom now live in Eugene, Ore., he planned a pace of 1:52 for 800 meters and 2:48 for 1,200. Byers had beaten Ovett in Oslo earlier in the season in a freakish race in which the pack, thinking Byers a rabbit who would die, let him build a huge lead, and he didn't die. But now he was recovering from a terrible cold and felt he could only guarantee two good laps. Boit, who considers himself essentially a half-miler, agreed to take the third quarter. "I'm nervous," he said. "I'm not used to these long races."
As the 10:15 p.m. starting time drew near, the usually serene Coe seemed impatient—standing on the track, ready, even though the 200-meter dash had yet to be run. "It was the difference between not knowing what was going on, as in Oslo in 1979 [where he first took the mile record, with a 3:49.0] and consciously going for something," he would say later. "Before I'd broken world records, I suppose in a way I didn't know they were possible. After you do one, it becomes more real somehow and takes on a greater importance to you, the sentimental value of a collector's item." But beyond that, Coe won the 1980 Olympic 1,500 and so can judge, as few men can, the relative worth of medals or records. "The records of 1979 were the truer indicator of athletic ability," he has written in a new book, Running Free. "That's why I want them back."
All had not gone smoothly for Coe since he brought his world record for 800 meters down to an amazing 1:41.72 in Florence in June. On July 7, during a near miss of the 1,500 record in Stockholm, he acquired a blister beneath the callous on the ball of his left foot. It opened up when he broke his own world 1,000-meter record with a 2:12.18 in Oslo. And winning the European Cup 800 in 1:47.03 on a searing track in Zagreb, Yugoslavia three days before Zurich didn't help any, the injury by then having developed into a deep wound. "We do a patching-up job that leaves it a little worse after each race," said Coe's father and coach, Peter. "After this he'll only run the Golden Mile in Brussels [Aug. 28] and the World Cup in Rome [Sept. 4-6]."
With little ceremony, the milers were sent off. Byers bolted to the lead as planned, with Coe taking a position almost beside his elbow. Boit made it to third, then was shoved wide by Spain's Jos� Luis Gonzales coming through on the inside. The 400 was 56.13, right on. "I felt O.K.," said Coe, "and the 800 was comfortable, too, perhaps too much so." The split there was 1:53.59, more than a second and a half behind schedule. Byers saw Peter Coe beside the track gesturing for more speed, but he had none to give. Boit was tired from fighting back around Gonzales into third. So there was a little lull. Coe realized he had to go. "You can train all you want, but when you reach that area around 2� laps, no one has it easy," he said. "I felt too good." He went into the lead with 600 meters to run. Boit kept close, feeling guilty that he hadn't been able to help.
The 1,200 mark passed in 2:51.68, more than a second slower than Ovett's pace in his record race. Coe went down the last backstretch with his head up and his fists clenched, gaining five yards on Boit and 20-year-old Steve Cram of England. He passed the 1,500 in 3:33.28. "In theory, 3:33 meant that the mile record was lost because I did 3:32.8 when I ran 3:49 in 1979," Coe said later. "I wanted to treat the race as a hard 1,500 and then try to maintain form the last 120 yards to the finish. As it happened, I had to dig in and go the last part. I've improved my finishing speed, thank goodness."
He lifted visibly in the stretch and just succeeded, his 3:48.53 making this the seventh occasion he has broken an outdoor world record. Boit hung on against Cram, and they both broke 3:50, with Boit's 3:49.74 taking more than five seconds from his previous best, and Cram's 3:49.95 making him the youngest ever to go so fast. John Walker of New Zealand, the first man ever to crack 3:50, almost did it again, six years later, with a 3:50.12. "And I'm teed off," he said, still full of racing fire. "I had way too much left."