Peter sits down happily to a dinner of roast beef, brown gravy, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, three other vegetables and Yorkshire pudding. Real Yorkshire pudding is no airy puff. Sylvia's is rich and eggy and can absorb ladles of gravy without losing its structural integrity.
Everyone receives a plate except Peter. He gets a blue oval platter. He piles the food precariously high and inhales, displaying a workingman's appetite. He's the first to finish, so he's asked to recall his 1988 Olympic experience, which wasn't enhanced by his groin discomfort. "I'd warm up for each race by jogging, but I couldn't do strides," he says. "Then I'd get an injection of anesthetic and go to the start. I had no real pain in the races, but it didn't seem the best preparation."
Injuries had kept Aouita, of Morocco, and 1987 world champion Abdi Bile, of Somalia, out of the 1,500. Coe hadn't been named to the British team, and Cram was not at his best, so Elliott knew he had a good chance to win. Kenya's Peter Rono took the lead with 800 meters to go. Elliott was overjoyed to have him set the pace. When they came into the final stretch, Elliott called on his kick. "My legs told me it was my seventh race in nine days," he says. "Still, I couldn't believe Rono stayed ahead to the end."
None of Elliott's losses to the great English champions tormented him quite like this defeat. "You give everything, and if you lose, you know it was to the better man on the day," he says. "The most frustrating thing about the Olympics is that Rono hasn't won a race since."
Back from Seoul, Elliott spent two weeks in the hospital because the same left pubic symphysis muscle that had bothered him in the Games was found to be infected. "I never thought I'd run again," says Elliott. "I couldn't cough. I couldn't laugh." Gradually, physiotherapy brought him back without the need for surgery. "Then I overtrained and got the flu at the end of the year," he says. "Then I overtrained again and got a stress fracture two months later."
That meant three more months without running, which hardly was a tonic for his disposition. "Things were at rock bottom," he says. "When I'm injured, I'm ratty all the time. But I decided to be smart."
He ran in water and cycled. When he finally returned to earthly running, in June 1989, he practiced moderation. Within 11 weeks he ran a 3:53 mile. "That changed my life," he says. "If my body could be that long away from training and come back so fast, well, a day off now and again to stay fresh is nothing to worry about. And after enforced rest, you realize how much racing means to you. You relax and enjoy it."
No Elliott associate fails to mention the confidence he now exudes. Further, for the last year Elliott has been working with a sprint coach to improve his late-race acceleration. Once a dependable carthorse who always led and often got outkicked, he started winning in '86 only when he began coming from behind.
Elliott's indoor 1,500-meter record was anything but expected. He reached the meet in Seville tired from having won back-to-back races in Glasgow and Stockholm. "I was coming down with a cold, and no crowd was there at all," he says. "I sure never said I was going for a record."
However, while warming up, he began to feel better. "You can't know until the day you run," he says. "I suddenly knew it was on."