"I had to laugh," Coe said. "She seemed most affronted by his choice of venue." Coe calmed his sister: "Look, the record is on a carousel right now. I'll have a turn tomorrow in Brussels."
These successive records had no precedent except the wartime seasons from 1942 to 1945 when Gunder Hägg and Arne Andersson of Sweden broke or tied the mile and 1,500 records 10 times and reduced the mile mark from 4:06.4 to 4:01.4. Now, a record per week focused attention on the real question: Why on earth don't Coe and Ovett race each other? They have met only three times in their adult careers—in the European Championships 800 in 1978, when both were beaten by East Germany's Olaf Beyer, and in the 1980 Olympic 800, won by Ovett, and 1,500, won by Coe.
Certainly, Coe would welcome a race. On July 11, after Coe had set a 1,000-meter world record of 2:12.18 and Ovett had won a 3:49.25 mile easing off, Coe went to Ovett's friend and manager, Andy Norman, and said, "I've had enough. As of now I'm entered in the Golden Mile in Brussels." Ovett had already entered, and said that night, "If Seb's there, there will be a race." Yet a few weeks later he withdrew, saying he felt the clash, when it came, ought to be on British soil.
These were the public remarks. But in the cloudy, quasi-professional world of top amateur runners, there are other, necessarily private elements. One is appearance money, which is none too surreptitiously given to attract and reward good fields. Ovett was ready to race Coe in Brussels until West German newspapers reported that Coe had struck a deal for $15,000 for the race. Whether that was true or not, English observers reasoned, if Ovett couldn't match that figure, he would naturally withdraw. Money can plausibly be seen as a motive for Ovett's overall racing pattern, because if he doesn't risk losing to Coe, he doesn't risk devaluing his asking price.
Several milers agree. "If they go head to head, there's definitely a No. 1," said Byers. "But if they trade world records back and forth, nobody knows. That's fine by Ovett."
Scott, the leader of the Run Hard and Let the Chips Fall Where They May school, said, "It's ego. It's not life and death for us to win. It is for Ovett."
Coe said, "I never speculate on Steve's behavior in choosing races. Perhaps he's not going to race until he feels ready, which I respect. Maybe he feels a psychological advantage in hopping around and keeping everyone guessing."
Coe guessed Ovett might turn up in Brussels anyway, a suspicion that gained credence when British Amateur Athletic Board official David Shaw called the meet director with clearance for Ovett to run should he show.
On the afternoon of the race, as the rumors swirled, Coe seemed to be in a serene mood, taking a walk beside a pear orchard and through playing fields near his hotel. He lay on the grass and played on some swings, chatting about physiology with a friend, Dr. David Martin of Atlanta. A youngster kicked a soccer ball at him, and Coe kept it off the ground with his feet for half a minute.
"Are you a soccer player?" the Belgian boy asked.