- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Last Saturday in Oslo, the midsummer night was so still and warm and the Bislett Stadium crowd so demanding that it all seemed to drive men mad. What other explanation was there for the way the men's 10,000-meter runners at the Mobil Bislett Games reacted to the Norwegian twilight and the thunder of the crowd?
The 10,000-meter field was one of the strongest in history, as it brought together the 1988 Olympic champion, Brahim Boutaib of Morocco; his countryman Khalid Skah, the 1990 and '91 world cross-country champion; the 1990 European champion at both 5,000 and 10,000 meters, Salvatore Antibo of Italy; and the world-record holder in the event, Arturo Barrios of Mexico, who had run a 27:08.23 in 1989.
Two perfectly able rabbits, Gerry O'Reilly and Dionisio Castro, also were in the field of 25, and they were paid good kroner to set a steady world-record pace of 65 seconds per lap. In fact, they reached five laps in 5:21.10, almost four seconds faster than the plan. And did the unpredictable Antibo flow along in their slipstream, harboring his energies for his well-honed kick?
No, he took his inspiration from the demented fans slamming their hands black and blue on the metal signs at trackside. He sprinted, flying wildly and unnecessarily into the lead. He would open a 10-meter gap, then relax, and the first pack would catch up. "Why even have rabbits?" said someone in the stands.
After Castro passed 5,000 meters in 13:27.81 and staggered into the infield, the race became a contest of suffering among Antibo, Skah and Kenya's Tomas Osano. None gave a damn for an even pace. Each was convinced that he could outsurge the other two. When Antibo sprinted, Skah sprinted, and when those two began to give in to the weight of their limbs and the thought of the miles to go, Osano sprinted by them both.
Mile after mile the three runners hammered at each other. Gradually, mortality prevailed. Their surges shortened and their stretches of gasping recovery lengthened. They could not hold record pace. Still they stayed together, jostling and paying for their early insanity, straining to keep up with each other. Osano fell behind with five laps to go.
For the first half of the last lap, Skah and Antibo batted elbows and shoulders. Then, on the last turn, they separated and kicked. Skah, who lives a block away from Bislett Stadium and runs for an Olso club, found the emotion for a great finish. He shot down the stretch five meters ahead of Antibo and won in 27:23.29. Antibo finished in 27:24.55 and Osano was third in 27:28.87.
Skah whirled right into—what else?—a maniacal victory lap, with both Norwegian and Moroccan flags flying.
The dementia was contagious. Later, in the night's concluding race, the Dream Mile, early rabbit Ikem Billy ripped past the quarter in 54.71—on pace for a 3:39 mile, which was highly improbable. (The world record is 3:46.32, set by Steve Cram in this race in 1985.) Peter Elliott of Great Britain, the Commonwealth 1,500 champion, lay third in 56.3, behind Ray Brown, another rabbit.