It might have been different had Puttemans not expended so much energy in his heat. He and Dave Bedford ran so fast the great British hope turned to him with 2,000m to go and said: "Let's go for the world record." "We could have broken it easily," Puttemans reflected, "but I said to Dave, 'No, it's only the heat'. Maybe if we had run easier from the start in the heat it would have been different for both of us in the final."
Can some of the old timers on here talk about what the heat was like? what was the record why were they running so fast? Would love to hear your insight.
A major boost to fast running in that meet was the track itself. In fact it took a little getting used to, especially for hurdlers (whose "normal" steps were getting them a bit too close to the barriers). Then, too, the widespread use of "ergogenic recovery aids" (*ahem*) certainly was a plus.
ABC televised the final live and uninterrupted to (at least) the East Coast. I remember watching it on a little black and white TV in Ithaca, NY. Bedford's start was electrifying and you knew right away that the race was going to be something very special. It was all-out from "go." (Actually, I just realized that that was the kind of start Gerry Lindgren would have considered ideal.)
I was beside myself, really, throughout the race. I could see Shorter letting the field (in the middle laps) string out with Bedford's surges, then patiently work his way back to the lead group. The fall, with Viren instantly back on his feet and taking the lead within a lap, and Gammoudi too slow in getting back up, only added to the drama. And the split times were just ungodly.
When you watch this video ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awW09xs--D0 ) you can see that they were 10secs behind Clarke's record pace with a km to go. But Viren ran the last 1200 in ~3:04 and just nicked Clarke.
Throughout, just the sheer speed was thrilling. You could *feel* how fast they were going. And then that last lap--astounding. In 40 years, I have never again watched a race that gave me so much excitement.
I remember reading that Viren's pulse was absurdly low--like 108?--almost instantly after finishing his heat, but he was one of the few in the heats to jog in that last 100m or so, once his qualifying place was secure. He set WRs before, during, and after the Games, and was clearly the fittest man there.
As noted, Shorter ran pretty hard to set the AR in the heats and broke it three days later in the final, then won gold in the marathon seven days after that--all of this two months after the Olympic Trials, which included the marathon. (But nowadays two quality distance efforts in two months is just too much, isn't it? Try three HIGH quality efforts in eleven days.)
The first five men in the final (Viren FIN, Putteman BEL, Yifter ETH, Haro ESP, Shorter USA) certainly set national records; Bedford set his NR in his heat. Between heats and final there were probably another half-dozen or so NRs. (Sorry, I no longer have that issue of T&FN, and I'm having trouble finding the info online.)
I have seen a pic of the young Viren in an American collegiate uniform. I believe he was briefly a US student (in CO, maybe?), but obviously didn't make a splash and probably didn't last long. Y'know, given that he didn't know English...