Friday, July 27, 2012

Remembering Sydney Maree's 13:01.15 in Oslo

On this day in 1985 Villanova legend Sydney Maree set a US National Record in the 5000 meters, running what was on that day the third-fastest time in history. In the process he chased Morocco's Said Aouita to a new world record of 13:00.40, breaking Britain's David Moorcroft's two-year old record (13:00.41) by the thinnest of margins. Maree's time of 13:01.15 -- which destroyed the extant US National Record of Alberto Salazar by over 10 seconds -- would stand as the US record for 11 years until Bob Kennedy became the first American (and first non-African) to break the magical 13:00 barrier in July 1996. Maree's 13:01.15 remains the fastest 5000 meters ever run by a former Villanova athlete.

Aouita and Maree waged an epic battle over multiple laps, with Aouita able at the end to ward off Maree by two strides. As the video above shows, Maree took the lead at the bell and held the lead for most of the final lap but was unable to stave off Aouita, who retook the lead in the final 150 meters of the race. Aouita would go on in the next month to claim the 1500 meters world record, a record that Maree himself had held briefly in 1983.

Sports Illustrated described the race this way, in its August 5, 1985 edition:

Two men were out to get him. Sydney Maree, the former 1,500 record holder, and the Olympic champion at 10,000, Alberto Cova of Italy. Both are renowned finishers. After Torstein Brox of Norway and Bob Verbeck of Belgium had rabbited past halfway at near-record pace, Aouita took over and kept up a steady flow of 63-second laps. Only Maree and Cova stayed with him. "From 3,000 to the end, I felt very bad," said Aouita. "Not in my legs, but in the stomach." Aouita is all chest and legs and teeth. He has run a 1:44.37 800, but speed training is said to hurt his flat feet.

Maree stayed second, so close that Aouita would always sense him. "From 2,000 meters, I knew he was there and going well and that he would attack," said Aouita. "The question was when."

And whether Aouita could respond. "I felt [then] that I couldn't do it today," he said. "At 3,000 I even thought of dropping out of the race."

With 600 to go, the pace got to Cova, and he fell away. Ten meters before the last-lap bell, Maree took off. The sight of him cutting in ahead jolted Aouita. "I liked it very much when he attacked," said Aouita later. "He helped the last 400 meters."

Aouita came to Maree's shoulder with 200 to go, and Maree held him there, outside, running farther on the turn. But Aouita fought even with 150 to run, pulled ahead off the turn and sprinted through the stretch. "I knew," he said. "I knew when Sydney sped ahead it was going to be a world record."

That was an awful lot of certainty for what turned out to be a very near thing. He hit the line in 13:00.40,.01 faster than Dave Moorcroft's great solo run at Bislett in 1982.

Aouita's last lap had taken but 54.4 seconds. Maree had given Aouita the world record with his long charge, and Aouita acknowledged it. "If he had gone from 800 meters, we'd have broken 13 minutes," he said, greedy and happy at the same time.

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