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One almost feared for said Aouita last Friday night as the tiny Moroccan awaited the start of the men's 3,000-meter race at the Panasonic Millrose Games in New York's Madison Square Garden. Not only was he the slightest runner (5'8�", 128 pounds) in the field of 12, but also he had run only one indoor race in his life—two years ago in Spain. Now he was facing the tight, slippery boards of the Garden track, on which it pays to have sharp elbows and no conscience. "I am taking a big risk just to run with these guys," Aouita said.
Coming from what has been the brashest mouth in the world of track and field, that was a startling admission. Aouita holds outdoor world records at 1,500,2,000 and 5,000 meters and at two miles, and he was the 1984 Olympic 5,000 champion. If at times the track world has been a trifle reluctant to proclaim his mastery, it is only because Aouita has done such a tremendous job of that himself.
But his performance at the Seoul Olympics seems to have chastened Aouita. He had been picked by almost everyone to win the 1,500 and at least to medal in the 800, but he strained his right hamstring in a workout two days before the heats for the 800. "I couldn't get my muscle to run fast," he said. In the final he was a well-beaten third to Paul Ereng of Kenya and Joaquim Cruz of Brazil, both of whom he had defeated earlier in the season. The injury forced him out of the 1,500. "It was a mistake to run the 800," he said. "I should have waited for the 1,500."
When he went home to Casablanca, Aouita experienced pain of a different kind. His countrymen apparently had short memories. "It was very hard because everybody knows me to win," he said. "If I win, everyone is with me. If I lose, people speak bad about me."
He stayed just three days in Casablanca. "When I come back home, I take my wife and my young daughter and I go to Orlando, Florida, for one month. We did everything. Disney World. Epcot." However, it wasn't all fun in the sun. Aouita trained, too. "Hard, hard, hard. I want to run well before I go back home."
If Aouita was the meet's most intriguing newcomer, then Olympic champions Louise Ritter and Jackie Joyner-Kersee were its reliable veterans. Ritter, the women's high-jump winner in Seoul, cleared 6'5�" to beat Galina Astafei of Romania. She then had the bar raised to 6'7", which would have been an American record, but she missed on all three attempts.
That was O.K., though, because early in the evening Joyner-Kersee had ensured that the meet would have a world best. It came not in the long jump or the heptathlon—the two events in which we have come to expect the spectacular from her—but in the 55-meter hurdles. With no major multievent competitions on the international schedule this year, she and her husband-coach, Bob Kersee, have chosen the hurdles, both the 100 and 400 meters, as the next events for her to conquer. Indeed, both believe that a world record in the 400 hurdles is possible. For now, they are using the shorter indoor races to hone her speed and technique.
Joyner-Kersee blew to a huge three-meter win in the trials. Her time was announced as 7.38 seconds, one tantalizing hundredth of a second shy of the indoor world mark set two years ago by Cornelia Oschkenat of East Germany. When a closer inspection of the photo changed that to 7.37, Joyner-Kersee had a share of her first indoor world best. "Oh, it means a lot," she assured someone who guessed that by now she might be blas� about records. "I didn't have one of those [indoor world bests] before."
In the final, Joyner-Kersee came out of the blocks slightly behind Kim McKenzie. "I popped straight up," she said after the race. She and McKenzie came down off the first hurdle together, but then Joyner-Kersee pulled away over the four remaining. "I concentrated on snapping my lead leg down," she said. Once again her time was 7.37, and once again her perfectionist husband saw room for improvement. "She's still losing a little velocity over the fourth and fifth hurdles," Kersee said.
Aouita was not the only runner at the Millrose who had experienced disappointment in Seoul. Mary Slaney also had a humbling Olympics, finishing eighth in the 1,500 and 10th in the 3,000. In Friday's mile, she got another crack at muscular Paula Ivan of Romania, the Olympic 1,500 champion.