Steve Cram, a slender and mellow police constable's son from the sooty British town of Jarrow on the Tyne, is one of those extraordinary competitors who seem to know just what they can do in the course of a given race. And then, in an elegant, almost preordained fashion, he simply goes out and does it. In the weeks before this summer's highly touted Dream Mile at Bislett Stadium in Oslo, Cram, 24, was clearly on a roll. On July 16 in Nice, France, he had smashed the world 1,500-meter mark by 1.10 sec. with a beautifully structured performance in 3:29.67. So, coming into Oslo with the track world now focused on his run at Olympic Champion Sebastian Coe's four-year-old mile record of 3:47.33, everything felt just right.
Moreover, Bislett Stadium was exactly where Cram wanted to be. "If you can't run well at Bislett, you're not running well anywhere," Cram said to reporters. "You know you're going to run fast whenever you come here." And he added later, "The atmosphere is electric ... it lifts you up." Most world-class runners agree. In the long Norse summer evenings, the air at Bislett is still and cool, so that neither wind nor heat oppresses the competitors. And the frequent rain showers leave a quickening aura of freshness, almost as if there were more oxygen to be gulped down to infuse the muscles with sustained power. The track itself, a recently installed Rekortan surface, is as fast as a fine track should be, though it has no unique properties for generating speed. But the tight old stadium, with its narrow six-lane oval walled in by chanting crowds of passionately knowledgeable Oslo running fans, seems to elicit special heroics from competitors. The athletes feel, in the words of retired U.S. Runner Marty Liquori, who commented on the race for ABC-TV, as though they are being pushed along "in a tunnel of sound." No fewer than 42 world records had been set there since 1924. The meet two weekends ago added three more in what Track Writer Kenny Moore of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED called "the most magnificent evening of distance running in history."
First, Norway's Ingrid Kristiansen rode the roar of the hometown aficionados to a 10,000-meter time of 30:59.42, a vast 14.36 sec. better than the old record. Next, Morocco's Said Aouita just out-dueled the U.S.'s Sydney Maree, shaving .01 sec. off the 5,000-meter record with his 13:00.40. Finally, Cram and Coe, 28, came onstage with eleven others for the classic confrontation to determine who would reign among the world's milers. Many experts, including Cram in his quiet, pleasant way, felt that the outcome was virtually certain. One possible question was Cram's occasionally tender left calf, which had been tweaking him after the Nice race. But in the final days before Oslo, the leg felt comfortable and strong, and Cram seemed unworried about any possible reinjury. His victory plan was a simple one: start fast and run Coe into the ground.