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They Showed The Way In Norway
Craig Neff
July 05, 1982
Or, ah, they didn't go slow in Oslo, Steve Scott, Mary Decker Tabb and Alberto Salazar establishing American records
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July 05, 1982

They Showed The Way In Norway

Or, ah, they didn't go slow in Oslo, Steve Scott, Mary Decker Tabb and Alberto Salazar establishing American records

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For eight days, Alberto Salazar had been holed up on a remote farm in Vikersund, Norway (pop. 1,292), thinking only of the 10,000-meter race he would run at last Saturday's Bislett Games in Oslo. "This will be my biggest 10 of the year—by far," he said on Friday. "I wanted no distractions." Salazar knew he was on the edge of world-record fitness: Two quick 5,000-meter races in May and June had told him that. And so to hold his sharpness, he had arranged to stay on the farm of the Norwegian national distance coach, Johann Kaggestad, in Vikersund, an hour west of Oslo. There, distracted only by the Kaggestads' three kids and their pet chicken, he had relaxed, taking light runs through the forest and occasionally chugging around the farm on an old tractor. "It was just perfect," he would say later. "So quiet and uneventful." That serenity, however, was to be short-lived.

Hardly had Salazar reached the Bislett Stadium starting line Saturday night when he heard Meet Director Arne Haukvik speaking in Norwegian over the PA. system. Suddenly, from the crowd of 7,032 came a storm of shrill, derisive whistles. Then Haukvik spoke in English, saying, "The International Amateur Athletic Federation has requested that we not allow any Kenyan athletes to participate in this meet...." Salazar himself felt like whistling. He was about to lose the two runners he needed most in his race: Peter Koech, the rabbit, whose job it was to pull Salazar through 5,000 meters in 13:38, and Henry Rono, the 10,000 world-record holder (27:22.4), who would push Salazar to the very finish.

"Go back about 20 yards and pretend you're not going to run," Salazar told Rono. "Then, right before the gun, sprint up and jump in with us." Rono just smiled. He had no intention of withdrawing from the race. Neither did Koech. They both stood patiently at the starting line as meet officials verbally threatened them. "What could we do?" said one official later. "This is Norway. You cannot manhandle someone. You cannot punch him out." The whistles, clearly in sympathy with Rono and Koech, grew louder, even while a few of the runners began staring at the Kenyans, annoyed by the delay they were causing. Rono and Koech didn't budge.

The IAAF order had come at the request of the Kenya Amateur Athletic Association, which wanted all its best athletes competing on this day at a meet among the U.S., West Germany and Africa in Durham, N.C. Said U.S. miler Steve Scott, who later in the evening would himself create a stir, "It's saddening. It's ridiculous. It shouldn't be happening. Let the runners run." And, indeed, after several more minutes of waiting, the full complement of runners was sent off by the starter's pistol.

It took two laps for all 27 competitors to jostle into line, and after they had, there was Salazar safely tucked in behind Koech in second place. Perfect position for a record. The weather was ideal, too—a temperature of 55°, with a whisper of breeze—as was the site. Over the years 40 world records had been tied or broken on the worn, patched Tartan surface of the Bislett track. Now, on every lap, rhythmic clapping exhorted the runners toward record No. 41.

Even though Koech slowed and dropped back several laps too early, Salazar, now in the lead, passed the 5,000-meter mark right on schedule, at 13:38. However, 35-year-old Carlos Lopes of Portugal, the 1976 Olympic silver medalist in the 10,000, was hanging on his outside shoulder, and Rono, who earlier had been as far back as ninth, had moved up to fifth, only 10 meters behind Salazar. By 6,000 meters Rono was on Lopes' shoulder in third, and as the race neared the 7,000 mark, he went into the lead.

Salazar quickly regained first place, but despite surges of his own he was unable to shake off Lopes, Rono and two other pursuers, Alex Hagelsteens of Belgium and Julian Goater of Great Britain. As the five battled on the turns, young fans reached over and pounded on the sheet-metal advertising signs that lined the trackside wall, creating the effect of crashing cymbals, almost thunder.

The final lap was a sprint. The 30-year-old Rono, who had beaten Salazar 27:29.90 to 27:30.00 in a 10,000 in Eugene, Ore. in April, blew past him again on the first turn, followed by the short, wiry Lopes. Salazar fought back. "It wasn't that I didn't sprint fast enough," he would say later. "I just didn't sprint soon enough." Salazar caught and passed Rono entering the final turn, but by then Lopes had 10 meters on both of them. Salazar closed that gap only slightly before crossing the finish line in second.

"Verdensrekord?" spectators asked each other, but Lopes' 27:24.39 clocking (the second-best ever) had missed Rono's world mark by 1.99 seconds. "Amerikanskrekord" mumbled some other fans. Indeed, Salazar's 27:25.61 had lowered Craig Virgin's U.S. 10,000 mark, set in 1980, by 3.55 seconds. Salazar, completely drained by his effort, sat with his head between his knees for five minutes. "I beat Rono" he finally said, smiling weakly. Rono had by then vanished, having received no official time or placing.

Both Norwegian meet officials and Norwegian women, meanwhile, were becoming a bane to Mary Decker Tabb. She had wanted to run against Grete Waitz in the 5,000 at Bislett, but Waitz allegedly had told Haukvik that if he let the American world-record holder into the 5,000, then she, Waitz, who two years ago received more votes than even 79-year-old King Olav in a Norwegian popularity poll, would pull out of the meet. Thus, Decker Tabb had been offered only a spot in the women's mile. "Poor sportsmanship, that's what I call it," she said before the meet. "Waitz is afraid I'll out-kick her and set a world record." Decker Tabb wasn't disappointed when Waitz won the 5,000 in 15:08.80—more than half a second off Decker Tabb's month-old mark. "Mary Decker Tabb is much faster than I," admitted Waitz. "She will someday run in the 14:50s. I am not a good competitor for her."

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