And Slaney beat it. And got all wiggly with relief afterward. "The whole Mary-Zola thing has to be over now," she said. "I'm happy. I'm happy just that we could have a good race."
Well, let's call it a good run. The archetypal race took place earlier in the week before 18,000 on a still, warm night in Nice, France. Steve Cram of Britain and Said Aouita of Morocco joined in a battle so compelling that it seemed perfectly fitting that both broke the 1,500-meter world record.
Nice wasn't so much a rematch as a rare gathering of a cross section of gold medalists. Cram was the world champion at 1,500 in 1983 and the silver medalist in L.A., behind countryman Sebastian Coe. Aouita, though he had last year's fastest 1,500 time, won the Olympic 5,000. The self-assured Aouita later announced that Coe had won the 1,500 "by default," because he, Aouita, wasn't in it.
Also racing in Nice was the Olympic 800-meter champion, Brazil's Joaquim Cruz, who had been kept from the Olympic 1,500 by illness. "People like Aouita and Cruz make it much more stimulating," Cram would say.
He was so stimulated that he could barely get his sweats off. "My legs are like jelly," he told his friend Dave Roberts. "I'm more nervous than I have ever been. I don't think I can do it." That was the miler's imagination talking, the growling anxiety that precedes and prepares.
He placed Roberts at the finish line to call out split times. The pace he had asked for, to be set by Niang Babacar of Senegal and Omar Khalifa of the Sudan, was 1:52 at the 800 and 2:35 with a lap to go. The rabbits went out hard, but Cram was right with them. Babacar and Khalifa passed 400 in 54.36, with Cram second, Cruz third and Jose-Luis Gonzalez of Spain fourth. Aouita, inexplicably, floundered along for a while, caught in the rear of the 11-man pack. The 800 was 1:53.68. Babacar dropped back to let Khalifa lead, and Aouita made it to fourth, ahead of Cruz and Steve Scott of the U.S.
The most efficient stride belonged to the tall, 24-year-old Cram. He is a true miler. At 17 he ran 3:57.43. Not blessed with the explosive homestretch kick of a Coe or a Steve Ovett, he has made it his tactic to keep close to the lead and then charge from a long way out, say 300 meters. That gives him a meter or two before anyone can react, and it forces kickers to sprint longer than they want to, or can.
Cram hadn't heard any of the splits. He had been running for position and economy. Now, with 400 to go, he caught Roberts screaming "2:36!" and there came the quick thought that a fast last lap could make this a world record. When Ovett set the record of 3:30.77 in 1983, he had passed this point in 2:35.64 and had gone on to run the final 400 in 55.13.
But this was a race. Cram was sure that Cruz was just behind: "That's why I attacked at the bell." He surged around the first turn and drove even harder with 300 to go. Cruz faded and would be no threat. Aouita, while not caught napping, had great difficulty getting around Gonzalez. "He blocked me," Aouita would say. "If he were English, I'd think he did it on purpose."
"Why," asked the Spaniard, in high Mediterranean dudgeon, "should I step out of the way, because it is Aouita?"