It was only as the race was upon him that Alberto Salazar felt things coming together. Despite a steady rain last Saturday afternoon in Eugene, Ore., the newness of the outdoor season and the weeks of frantic effort he'd put into assembling a marvelous field for this invitational 10,000 meters in his hometown, there were uplifting signs.
Minutes before, in the final individual race of an Oregon-LSU dual meet, for example, Oregon junior Jim Hill had broken out alone through the rain in the 5,000 and cut almost 18 seconds from his lifetime best with a clocking of 13:30.52, the fastest in the world so far this year. Afterward, Hill ducked into the little metal storage shed at the top of the back-stretch. "Nasty out there," he said.
Salazar was changing into his racing shirt. "You psyched me up by running that," he said to Hill. And as they spoke, the announcement came that the Oregon women's team had beaten UCLA in Los Angeles 69-58 on the strength of Leann Warren's victories in the 800, 1,500 and 3,000 meters. And now 5,868 jubilant, demanding spectators were calling from beneath the roofed stands of Hayward Field for Salazar to bring out his field and defeat it.
The 14 runners began at a deliberate speed, feeling out the track and the others and themselves. Jos� Gomez of Mexico, who had been the last man to fall away from Salazar in Salazar's world-record New York Marathon last October, led at the 440 in 65.7. Salazar took over before the end of a half mile, looking smooth and light. Still the field was a cluster behind him, two and three wide. Then Adrian Royle took the lead, passing the � mile in 3:19.9, and the race fell into single file.
Royle, 23, from Grimsby on the east coast of England and a history major at Nevada-Reno, was running his first 10,000 meters on the track, but he had been invited by Salazar because the last time they had raced, in the TAC National Cross-Country race in November, Royle had not only won, he had crowed. "I knew I had it won the whole way," he'd said. When asked if he was worried about a vengeful Salazar in this race, Royle said, "I don't care about him. The only one I care about is Henry Rono." Even with all his organizing duties, Salazar was well aware of Royle's statement. Yet the outspoken Royle admitted a grudging admiration for Salazar's courage. "If I were putting on a race," he said, "I wouldn't invite any guys who can kick like these Africans."
Salazar would, and did, and thus in fifth ran Suleiman Nyambui of Tanzania and UTEP, who has won a full dozen NCAA track titles at distances from the mile to 10,000 and possesses the silver medal from the 5,000 in the Moscow Olympics. In fourth was Michael Musyoki of Kenya, also a student at UTEP, who six days earlier had set a world best for 10,000 meters on the road, running 27:48 in New Orleans. Before the race Nyambui and Musyoki had waited in their shared motel room as long as possible. "We watched out the window," said Musyoki, "and said, 'Oh, it's raining, let's wait,' and 'Oh, it's still raining...' " They got to the track as the 10,000 field was being called.
"For a mile I felt as fresh as anything," said Musyoki, "but after five laps I didn't know what was happening. It was as if someone were pulling backward on me." The two starkly lean Africans, so splendid at heat dissipation on hot days, couldn't retain enough warmth in the rainy, 50� weather to keep running freely and soon fell back.
Yet Henry Rono, also Kenyan, led past the mile in 4:27.1. Stockier than Nyambui and Musyoki, he seemed better insulated. When Salazar again led at five and six laps, beginning to apply serious pressure, Rono hung close. He's the world-record holder at this distance, with his 27:22.4 run in Vienna in 1978, and he has had many stirring races against Salazar because he ran for Washington State during the span that Salazar ran for Oregon (1976-1981). Rono had beaten Salazar every time. Getting him into this special race had become Salazar's main project.
"Sure, Henry said he'd like to run in Eugene," Salazar had said the day before the race, "but there were all these conditions, little favors. I practically became his agent for two weeks. 'Get me into that race in California the week before, and call me up when you have it arranged,' he told me." Salazar obeyed, and Rono finished second in the Martin Luther King Games 5,000 at Stanford. That race, too, had been in the rain. "It didn't help my confidence," said Rono.
When Salazar went out to meet Rono's plane in Eugene on Monday, Rono wasn't on it. "Thursday night he still wasn't here," said Salazar. For four hours Salazar phoned runners around the country, and at midnight located Rono in Provo, Utah, where he'd gone for altitude training. "He said he wanted a 5,000" said Salazar. "He wasn't ready for a 10,000. I felt he was being irresponsible. It's the result of years of appeasement by meet directors." Salazar told Rono that he expected him to live up to his promise, and that the race would remain 10,000 meters. Rono was in Eugene the next morning.