"I didn't want to lead," Slaney explained after the race. "But I found myself having to take it." She led until four laps remained on the 11-laps-to-the-mile track. Then Ivan, with her strong, wide stride, charged past. Slaney did not respond, and the Romanian's lead grew to 10 yards at the�-mile mark, which she passed in 3:20.
From there it grew no wider. With two laps to go, Slaney was gaining. By the final turn, she had hauled herself up onto Ivan's shoulder. But to go around Ivan, Slaney had to swing out, and she lost three crucial feet. She came at Ivan again in the short homestretch, but it was too late. "I didn't give myself the time to make it up," Slaney said. Ivan beat her to the tape by three feet, 4:23.72 to 4:23.91.
After the race Ivan was all shy smiles. "Yes, I felt Slaney at my back," she said through an interpreter. "I wasn't sure if it was for me or for her, but everyone said, 'Go, go!' " If Ivan found that confusing, what must she have thought when, halfway through her victory lap, she was passed by Slaney, who was waving to the crowd while impulsively taking what can only be described as a runner-up lap?
As Slaney and Ivan ran their separate laps of honor, Aouita was thinking of redemption. He wanted a record. And to help him get it, meet director Howard Schmertz provided John Hinton, who has run a 3:40.22 1,500, to pull the field through a 4:05 first mile. That would put Aouita about a second ahead of pace to break that hoariest of individual indoor world records, the 7:39.2 run by Emiel Puttemans of Belgium in 1973.
At the gun, Hinton sprinted to the lead with Aouita close behind. The field strung out as Hinton passed 440 in 59.7. That was a little too ambitious, and Aouita wisely hung five yards back in second place, as the pace slowed to 2:05.4 for the first half mile.
With a mile to go, Hinton stepped off the track, and Steve Scott, the U.S.-record holder for the indoor mile, took the lead. The time for the first mile was 4:14, leaving all hopes of a record gone. But slow races often end with frenzied stampedes, and the crowd in the Garden leaned forward hungrily. "Position became very important," said Doug Padilla, who by now was positioned quite nicely in fourth place. "It was your nightmare of an indoor race."
With 2� laps to go, Aouita took the lead with the move everyone had been waiting for. It was calm and controlled: There was more to come if needed. One lap later it was Padilla's turn. Still in fourth place, he gathered himself and sprinted the length of the backstretch, cutting in front of Aouita just as they entered the turn. Here was a move from which there was no backing down. The crowd rose. Padilla seemed to pull slightly away from Aouita as they swept into the final lap.
But on the final backstretch, Aouita inched closer. "I was tying up," Padilla said afterward. "It was my hope that he was tying up, too. Obviously he wasn't."
Aouita caught Padilla just as they hit the final turn. His flailing left arm smacked Padilla's right shoulder. Aouita stumbled, recovered and moved wider, into the second lane. His legs churned with cartoonish speed as he dug desperately into the belly of the turn. He raced down off the turn and, with 25 yards to go, finally, gratefully, passed Padilla and ripped through the tape. Aouita's final 440 was 55.2, and his 7:47.07 for the race was a meet record. Padilla finished second, .28 of a second back.
Two days later, at the Mobil 1 Invitational in Fairfax, Va., Aouita would win the 5,000 in a swift 13.22.56. Thus the first two of the five indoor races he plans to run in the U.S.—for a reported total of $100,000—were distinct successes. After his Millrose race, he sat grinning in the press area. In Casablanca, he said, it was not quite 5 a.m., but yes, he would soon call home with the news. "Now they will say, 'Yes, he must have been injured in Seoul.' "