It seemed to Sydney Maree that he had tried so hard, and done so little. "I didn't know why I wasn't running well," he said Sunday night, his mood at once expansive and reflective, for this was important to get down. This was history now. "The whole summer was just a long struggle. I was amazed at what a month's layoff could do to me."
On June 28, reaching the tape in a 3,000-meter race in Oslo, Maree had felt a tightness in his right hamstring. By the end of his victory lap, he was limping—and knew it was a pull. He flew home to Villanova, Pa. and took nearly a month off from the circuit to heal.
Sound once more, he began intense training for the Helsinki World Championships. The effort so tired him that he failed to make the 1,500 final, but he pressed on. His history is one of blooming late in a season. In September 1981, in Rieti, Italy, he ran his best mile, 3:48.83, and beat 1,500-meter record holder Steve Ovett when most of the rest of the world's best milers had long since gone home exhausted.
"I don't race indoors," Maree said. "I do distance and strength training instead. I don't start any speed work until late April. By June, at our TAC nationals, I'm competitive, but it is still my strength that carries me. I'm not relaxed. It's usually only now, in August in Europe, that I get my real speed, that I feel comfortable, say, with running a 1:52 half and keeping going."
But the comfort, the rhythmic ease he had known in other years, refused to come. On Aug. 17, he ran a 3:50.30 mile in Berlin behind Steve Scott's 3:49.21. Six days later, he ran a 3:53.41 mile in Oslo behind Ovett's 3:50.49. No progress. In each he had run as hard as he could, and it showed. His arms thrashed; his stride was reaching and clumsy. Maree at his best is none of those things.
He began to wonder whether he shouldn't just write off the season and go home. He was highly regarded by the other runners because of his past accomplishments and his example of effort, but they began to leave him out of their calculations concerning who would be factors in the last lap. He was becoming a member of the supporting cast.
There were three major meets in Europe last week, and each featured a 1,500. Maree would run in two of them, Brussels on Friday night and Cologne on Sunday. But first, on Wednesday, there was Zurich, where any talk of records swirled around the person of Scott. Scott had lost the slow, disappointingly tactical Helsinki 1,500 to Great Britain's Steve Cram, but more by kicking too late than by inadequate swiftness. Indeed, Scott had gained on Cram all the way down the stretch. Over a full, hard-paced 1,500, it seemed, things would be different.
But Scott didn't find Cram in Zurich. The evening before, in Oslo, Cram had run the year's fastest 800, a 1:43.61. Maree had seen him do it. Cram then decided he would enter the 1,500 in Brussels. However, Scott would run the 3,000 there. "I set up my schedule months ago," said Scott. "I'm not going to be reduced to chasing him. He knows where I'm racing." Setting records, then, seemed to be Scott's only chance at proving his superiority to the tall young Briton.
Rabbit Collin McClive of the U.S. towed the Zurich field through 800 in 1:55.65, but faltered abruptly, leaving Mike Boit in front. Boit did his best, and with 400 to go the time was 2:38. That meant a 53-second closing lap by Scott would earn him Ovett's world record of 3:31.36. But Scott stayed third behind Boit and Spain's José Abascal until 250 to go, and then it was Abascal who moved into first. Scott passed him on the last turn, and edged away down the stretch. Switzerland's Pierre Deleze came on for second.
Scott's time was 3:32.71, the second-fastest of the year, and he confessed to nerves. "I was more tense for this than at Helsinki," he said. "I was tight. And conservative. There was pressure here because of the conscious record try."
John Walker of New Zealand was fourth in 3:34.29. The most experienced judge of these things, Walker said, "Cram ought to break the world record in Brussels. He can run from the front, and he's had terrific preparation. Scotty is equally capable, but he's not as positive right now. He needed to be more aggressive that last lap."
Two nights later, on Brussels' patched and worn track, Cram gave an object lesson in decisive running. He followed rabbit Sam Koskei of Kenya, instructing him at times in the pace, to a 1:53.20 for 800. Rather than fold, Koskei kept right on for another 200 meters.
"I'm not going to go for any record if someone doesn't do the third lap," Cram had said. Yet when Koskei went wide and abandoned him with 500 to run. Cram didn't hesitate. He set out for home. At the bell the time was 2:36.20. "I wanted 2:35," said Cram. "I thought I wasn't going to do it."
No doubts showed in his long, forceful stride, or on his eager face. He passed 1,200 in 2:49.64, and the crowd rose, howling in anticipation. He had left a fine field 15 yards behind, evoking the 1981 Brussels mile, in which Sebastian Coe set the still-standing world record of 3:47.33. In the last 100 of Cram's race, his teeth were clenched, and his head bobbed with the strain. As he crossed the line, the crowd erupted in a great groan, inappropriate for such a compelling run, but they had been watching the clock, and it had stopped at 3:31.66, a bare .30 from the record, the fourth-fastest ever, and the 1,500 of the year, so far.
"That's the problem with going for records," Cram said later. "If you build yourself up for one, and you miss, then you're disappointed, even if you've run great. Look, I just ran a PR by two seconds. I can't be unhappy with that. It's good simply to know I'm still running well. I don't believe you can stay in top form for more than a few weeks."
"Well, then," said Chris Brasher of the London Observer, who had paced Roger Bannister to the first sub-four-minute mile, "Why not attack something?"
Cram, a casual man, said, "I'd like to run in Cologne or Koblenz, but I'm being fair to myself. I don't seem driven to do everything at once."
And there were other things, important things. "I've promised to be home [in the North of England] in early September. My fiancé needs moral support. It will be her first day of teaching at Monkseaton Middle School." Thus it was clear that Britain has produced another miler of wondrous confidence and balance. So impressive was his long, lonely drive to the finish that it had, even in the eyes of Scott partisans, legitimized Cram's Helsinki win.
Maree, by dismal contrast, had gotten poor position at the start, spent much of the race in the second lane, and finished fourth in 3:35.39, 25 yards behind. "I felt a little better than in the earlier races." he said. "They got away early, but it seemed like I ran O.K. near the finish."
So that night he began to think about Cologne. "I need to go out hard. I'm not one who can run the last 800 in 1:48. I need a few seconds to play with at the end. I decided that in Cologne. I would go from the beginning, whatever pace the rabbit went. I said, if I die, then I die. But I had to see what I could do running my way. All I wanted was a 3:33 or maybe a 3:32."
His best was 3:32.12, set last year. "You know the mile record has always seemed a possibility to me. But I didn't think I had the speed for the 1,500 record. No, I thought of Cologne more as a tune-up race, the way it has been for me in the past."
The early rabbit at Cologne was Bernhard Knoche, and he tore through the first 200 in around 25 seconds—suicidal pace. Half-miler David Mack of the Santa Monica Track Club assumed second, and Maree was third. Maree yelled at Knoche to slow down, but still they passed 400 in a whistling 54.62. They already had a gap on the rest of the field. "We all thought he'd die." said Walker.
Knoche slipped aside at 600, and Mack took over. "He said, 'Come on, Sydney, hang on,' " said Maree later. As he led, Mack kept half-turning his head, keeping track of his charge. "He talked to me the whole way," said Maree. " 'Come on, man, all the way; you're there, man, come on....' "
Mack hit the 800 in 1:52.80. It had not looked that fast. "Mack is so smooth, he made me feel easy," said Maree. Too, Maree had no clear idea of the pace. His mind was completely filled with the simple imperatives of staying with Mack and staying relaxed. He was not the same runner he had been in Berlin or Brussels. The feathery flow had returned.
Just before the 1,000, Mack had to turn Maree out on his own. It was just where all help had left Cram. Maree sped on, but the crowd of 55,000 didn't rise to him with resounding encouragement. He didn't look as if he needed it. "I never felt in any difficulty." Maree would say. "It was the most even pace I have ever run."
With a lap to go, the time was just under 2:35. This was where Cram had hoped to be two nights before. Maree looked back and saw no one. He still had no idea of the time. He ran the first curve of the last lap and passed 1,200 in 2:49.36.
Down the backstretch and into the final curve, he sustained that effortless stride. The crowd still seemed to be politely rewarding the esthetic beauty of it, unaware of the speed. But the athletes knew. Don Paige, a teammate of Maree's in their Villanova days, ran onto the track and gestured and shouted for Maree to drop his arms and pump them as he kicked.
"When he hit 200 to go, I knew he had a world record," said Paige. "His biggest asset is that he seems to love pain. But he never really tied up. Jumbo [Elliott, their revered coach at Villanova, who died 2½ years ago] was probably up there going, 'Yeah, Sydney, oh, yeah, my Sydney.' "
With about 100 meters to run, Joe Douglas, coach at the Santa Monica T.C., yelled the time at Maree: "Three-fifteen." Only then did Maree understand where this run had brought him.
"I knew I could make the last 100 in 16 seconds," Maree said. "Yet I never really opened up. I just said, 'I've got to run through the tape.' " In the last 20 meters, he began to struggle. "Only then did I push. Just to get done."
He crossed the line. The crowd looked at the clock. And gave forth an exhalation of stunned confusion. "I was the same way," said Maree. "I stared at the clock. It didn't register." Walker, finishing third in 3:34.55, came up behind him, grabbed his shoulders, and said. "Sydney, you've done it!" Maree looked again; it hit him, and he went to his knees in thanksgiving.
The time was 3:31.24, which was .12 faster than Ovett's record. "My only thought was that it had been so easy," said Maree. "It was harder to run the 3:35 the other night than this. Now I keep asking that question, why so easy?"
He jogged on the infield grass along with second-placer Deleze (3:34.22) and Walker. This was the ninth world-record race Walker has been in, counting two of his own. Walker was talking animatedly to Maree, gesturing earnestly.
Then Maree ran to a phone in the press row and called his wife, Lisa. "The record is for them," he said while waiting to be put through. "For my daughter Natalya and my wife, for Lisa....
"Hello, Lisa, how are you? Guess what? A new world record....
"In the 1,500 meters.... Me!...
"Lisa, it's afternoon there. Why are you sleeping in the afternoon? O.K., now that you're awake, I'm calling to tell you my time today—3:31.24. The record was 3:31.36....
"Lisa, are you crying? I just went with the pacemaker. Walker and a few others were in it. Hey, hey, Lisa, please don't cry, O.K.?"
It was then that Pierre Quinon of France took advantage of the no-limits atmosphere Maree had created and broke the world pole vault record by a centimeter, with 5.82 meters (19'1"). A boyish, curly-haired charmer of 21, he had the bar put at the astronomical height of six meters (19'8"). "Not to make it," Quinon said after he'd failed. "Just to show, to feel what it would be like."
Amid the cheers echoing for that, Walker revealed what he'd been telling Maree after the race. "I was advising him," he said, grinning. "I said to go home, to not stay and set himself up to be knocked off next week. I said enjoy it. These things don't last."
Which is exactly what Maree plans to do in a few days. "I can sleep now," he said. "I came here the hungry one. Now I am content."
Maree saw 3:31.24 up on the clock, but its significance didn't register immediately.
While the world listened in, Maree called Pennsylvania with the news.
Brussels fans groaned at Cram's 3:31.66.