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A Matched Pair And A Matchless Miler
Craig Neff
February 22, 1982
Hurdlers Candy Young and Stephanie Hightower and the magnificent Mary Decker Tabb starred at the Millrose Games
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February 22, 1982

A Matched Pair And A Matchless Miler

Hurdlers Candy Young and Stephanie Hightower and the magnificent Mary Decker Tabb starred at the Millrose Games

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The 18,293 Garden fans reacted to the race with steady, shrill whistles for the first three laps, then moved through a clapping phase into a full, throaty roar. Ron Tabb, a short man with flashing blue eyes and a trim brown mustache, was in the infield in jeans and a leather jacket yelling, "High!" or "Low!" to his wife as she passed. "I was telling her how her splits compared to the pace she wanted," he explained. "You're not allowed to give the times themselves." But because of the noise, Decker Tabb had some difficulty hearing even the splits called out by the P.A. announcer. "My pace seemed to be pretty even, and that's what I wanted," she said.

As Decker Tabb came into the final two laps, the crowd was standing and those in the infield were waving her along with broad windmill gestures. Her time for three-quarters of a mile had been 3:15.2, putting her within striking distance of a 1,500 record and a mile time in the high four-teens. But Decker Tabb didn't have enough strength left to accelerate over the final 440 yards, and she passed 1,500 meters in 4:03.6. She hit the tape in 4:21.47, almost 12 seconds ahead of Leann Warren of the University of Oregon, easily setting a world mile mark off splits of 64.2, 64.7, 66.3 and 66.3. That's even pace.

"I'm excited, but I really wanted to get under 4:20," she said, looking very dark-eyed from too heavy an application of mascara. "The crowd here is so good to me," she continued. "It seems that I start to hear them when I begin slowing down. But a lot of times I can't really tell when I'm slowing down." Not enough practice, perhaps.

While Decker Tabb was describing her race, which would win her the meet's Outstanding Athlete Award, the men's 5,000-meter run began. The favorites in it were indoor 5,000 world-record holder Suleiman Nyambui of UTEP and Tanzania and Alberto Salazar, the world-record holder in the marathon and the American record holder in the indoor 5,000. The dark horse appeared to be 25-year-old Doug Padilla, a fifth-year senior at Brigham Young. Padilla, last year's NCAA indoor two-mile champion, is an over-aged student only because he devoted two of his regular college years to Mormon missionary work in El Salvador. He had already beaten both Nyambui and Salazar in indoor races this season, and a week before the Millrose he had won a mile, in 3:56.3, over a strong field at the Los Angeles Times meet. Yet Salazar, whose loss to Padilla had been at two miles at Portland in late January, was still writing him off. "I think the race [about 3.1 miles] is too long for him," said Salazar. "He tends to fall asleep for a couple of laps in there."

Salazar himself wanted to run as well as he had in January's U.S. Olympic Invitational 5,000 in New Jersey; in that race he would have broken Nyambui's world record had he not been jostled to the track in the early going. Right after that race, Alberto and his father, José, happened to see Schmertz. "If you want my son to run in your meet, you'd better set that track up the night before so he can practice on it," said José Salazar.

"Dad, that wasn't why I fell," whispered Alberto. "Besides, setting up the track for an extra night in Madison Square Garden costs like $90,000 or something."

"Still, he should do it," maintained José.

Salazar took the lead from Padilla three laps into the 34-lap race and held it until only six laps were left. "It was a pity," one spectator would say later. "Alberto did all the work." Padilla, whose strategy had been to "stay with Alberto," did just that until 5½ laps remained, at which point Nick Rose of Great Britain slipped inside him, next to the curb. "I wanted to make my move with two laps to go, but when Nick forced me wide, I had to take the lead then," said Padilla. "I was running scared."

Nyambui was never a factor, and Salazar, who carried the race through the first mile in 4:18.8 and the second mile in 8:36.0, eventually faded to fourth. "No excuses," he said. "I just wasn't strong enough." Having passed the three-mile mark in 12:56.9, Padilla kicked and pulled away from his closest pursuers, Rose and another Briton, Geoff Smith. He reached the finish in 13:20.55, seven yards ahead of Rose and 2.05 under Salazar's U.S. indoor record, and then collapsed from fatigue.

Salazar came over to help him. "Thank you for the race," said Padilla, who is exceptionally polite and humble. He had run a personal best by 13 seconds, missing Nyambui's world record by only .15 of a second, and couldn't believe what he had accomplished. "I had all kinds of doubts. I wasn't sure I'd be able to run the whole race," he said a few minutes afterward, still slightly wobbly. "It's kind of hard to put myself in a class with these guys."

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