Well, once upon a time...
Hear this, Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter and Craig Virgin, the early-book favorites to make up the 1980 U.S. Olympic marathon team. It's not going to be easy. That was the message that was flashed from the ninth annual Nike/ Oregon Track Club marathon last Sunday in Eugene, where Tony Sandoval and Jeff Wells, both of the hometown Athletics West Club, cruised to a mutual victory in 2:10:20, ahead of teammate John Lodwick's courageous 2:10:54 and Dick Quax' first-ever marathon of 2:11:13. Yes, Rodgers, Shorter and Virgin, as you prepare for next month's New York Marathon, lend an ear to this emphatic communiqu� from the Northwest.
It was a race marked by perfect conditions and elated, eager running. A fine mist was falling through 56� air as the field, sternly limited to 1,000, left the start. Up front at once was Lodwick, who has been Wells' roommate, first at Rice, then at the Dallas Theological Seminary and now in Eugene, where both are assistant pastors of Calvary Baptist Church. "I didn't plan on leading," said Lodwick later. "I ran with the same effort as I did in previous marathons." But once he and Bernie Rose, a South African who had entered under an assumed name of Bernard Randall to circumvent the AAU ban against his countrymen, drew away from the pack at five miles, the 6'4" Lodwick decided he had better stay ahead. "I've been a windbreak for a lot guys in past races," he said, "and there is a certain anxiety to being closely followed."
There seemed to be none at all to dropping Rose and running freely to a full minute's lead by the halfway point. His right palm was blue from his having written his expected checkpoint times there. He soon stopped consulting it. "That was because after eight miles I was running personal records all the way," he said.
Behind him ran a pack of five relatively patient men. Wells, the race record holder (2:13:15 in 1977) was feeling at peace with the world. "I was just thinking, 'This is what I love, running on a good day with good runners. "I was just filled with the joy of it. It didn't seem too upsetting that John was so far ahead. Once I even hoped he'd go on to a 2:08 world record."
Herm Atkins, of Seattle's Club Northwest, went along, knowing he had only to stay with these rivals to continue the remarkable transition he has made from a runner known only for his early foot to a world-class marathoner and consistent finisher.
Sandoval, 25, who is a third-year medical student at the University of Colorado, followed a few yards behind, concentrating on an even flow of effort. "I kept thinking this is a long race," he said. "Just let all the work you've done carry you." That work included a glorious month this summer running with Wells and Lodwick in the high country near Los Alamos and Truchas, N. Mex., Sandoval's hometown. On trails 10,000 feet up Guaje Canyon in the Jemez Range, Sandoval ran with elks, "played in the meadows" and now has returned to competition five pounds lighter—he's 5'8", 112 pounds—stocked with boundless emotional reserves.
Quax, as would be expected of the 1976 Olympic silver medalist at 5,000 meters, was having no trouble with the pace, but there are experiences on many levels in a marathon. "I got excited, even euphoric," the New Zealander said. "It was a feeling you never have on the track. On the road, competitors hand around sponges. In a 5,000 all that they give you are elbows."
Thus moved, by 18 miles Quax had broken away from Sandoval, Wells and Atkins and was going after Lodwick. But his charge was too early and too hard.
"It was inexperience," Quax said. Quickly he cut Lodwick's margin to 30 seconds, then 15. But there he hung.
At 22 miles, in sudden sunshine, Sandoval and Wells passed Quax and strode lightly on after Lodwick. They had exchanged small words of encouragement all along. Now there was no need to talk. "We knew what was happening," said Sandoval. "There was power exuding from us." They caught Lodwick with 214 miles to go. "I knew they were coming," Lodwick said. "I tried to prepare myself not to get discouraged as they went by. We hit 40 kilometers in under 2:04. I knew what that meant. Hang on!"
As Sandoval ran with Wells over the footbridge across the Willamette River, he was aware that there was less than a mile to go, and he began reliving the 1976 Olympic Trials. It was at this spot that he had been left by Don Kardong and had lost the last spot on the team. But now he felt strong and jubilant.
Wells is a magnificent finisher who has never given quarter at the end of a race. Sandoval is a 1:49.5 800-meter runner who can sprint with anyone. They looked at each other and decided to finish in a tie. "We had run so far together, had helped each other so much," said Wells, "that we couldn't have done anything else. We found out all we had to know—for now."
By not sprinting, Wells gave up the opportunity to break his personal record of 2:10:15. Hand in hand the two crossed the line and then turned to embrace Lodwick and Quax. The four, remarkably fresh, danced a giddy victory lap around Hayward Field: two ministers, a doctor and a salesman for a New Zealand radio station, proving, as Shorter and Rodgers have done before, that in marathoning nice guys can finish first.
Quax' time of 2:11:13 confirmed him as a great talent at the distance should he continue marathoning. There is doubt of that only because New Zealand's selection system demands he break 2:13:30 twice to be considered for the Olympic team. "They don't want a good runner," he said. "They want a superman."
All an American need do to make the Olympic marathon is run 2:21:54 to qualify for—and then place in the top three—at the Olympic Trials next May in Buffalo. Fifty men ran under the Trials standard in Eugene, and 34 of them recorded personal bests, testament to a grand day and a continuing surge of excellence in U.S. marathoning. Atkins' fifth-place time was a splendid 2:11:52, and the depth of field was best illustrated by 36-year-old Olympic-steeplechaser Mike Manley, who ran 2:16:45 but finished 19th.
As his three runners celebrated their unprecedented team sweep of a major marathon, Athletics West Coach Harry Johnson admitted to some astonishment. "I thought they'd do well," he said, "but that their next race after this one—the Olympic Trials—would be the real eye-opener. I still believe that."