Runner's World (UK)
One by one, they weaken and break. You can see the hope dying in their eyes
At around 3,000m, which they passed in a slow 8:16.3, Virén surrendered his lead to Foster. Foster surged for 200m, then slowed and Hildenbrand soon passed him. Virén bided his time. The laps ticked by, and with each, the fast finishers gained in confidence.
Perhaps Virén was misjudging the race.
Then Virén decided to ‘revert to my second plan, which was to take control’.
With three laps to go, he moved up smoothly from seventh to Hildenbrand’s shoulder. Then, after seeming to pause to gather his resolve, he floated into the lead. His body language was unthreatening, his movements smooth and relaxed. But he was gradually beginning his kick for home, with just over a kilometre remaining.
The field stretched; stragglers dropped from contention. The rest quickly bunched again. With 600m remaining, Virén was going at around 60-second-lap pace, but up to 10 runners were still in contention at the bell. There was barely five metres between the first six, but Virén was in control. You can’t see him forcing anything: it’s the same calm, economical, long-legged stride. Any moment, you think, the runners behind will pounce. But they can’t, because Virén, imperceptibly, is still winding up the pace.
Stewart is first to attack, but by the back straight, he’s tiring. Then Foster and Dixon have a go, passing Stewart on either side. Dixon moves up to Virén’s shoulder. The two fast men are perfectly positioned to attack – yet Virén remains in front with the quiet, implacable will of a man who knows that, as long as he never eases, every attack can be neutralised.
They approach the bend. Hildenbrand, running wide in lane two, charges past Dixon. He goes from fifth to almost-first in 20 strides; in his mind, he is seizing the gold. But Virén won’t let him pass. Instead, the Finn takes them all round the bend, still running smoothly, still on the curb.
Dixon, long hair flapping, surges again, but before he can pass anyone, Quax, spectacularly, joins the attack. His wide surge takes him past Dixon, Hildenbrand and Foster in a few seconds and brings him level with Virén, who later admitted to being ‘terrified’ by the blur of black on the edge of his vision. Quax – the future world record-holder – is convinced the race is his. But he is running a lane-and-a-half wider than Virén, who never strays from his line, while Dixon, who fights his way back to Quax’s shoulder, is wider still. They straighten out for the final sprint. Virén has his nose in front.
For maybe 15 metres, the first five runners seem locked in formation: Virén, Quax, Dixon, Hildenbrand and Foster. No one will yield. No one can make headway. Then, one by one, they weaken and break; all but Virén. You can see the hope dying in their eyes; they tense up or slacken, and lose their form. Quax’s mouth gapes; Hildenbrand is clawing and grimacing; Dixon’s head is tilted so far back he must almost be able to see Foster flailing behind him. Virén • •