This piece is by Jeff Benjamin, celebrating the 35th annivesay of Steve Cram’s 3:46.32 at the Dream Mile. Special thanks to Steve Cram on his thoughts and comments on this amazing night of athletics.
July 27th, 1985 – The Night Of Steve Cram’s 3:46 Dream Mile!
By Jeff Benjamin
As Steve Cram came up on the bell lap in 1985 at Oslo’s “Dream Mile” in a time of 2:53.14, one could forgive him if the Brit’s mind didn’t reflect back to his first foray into running a 400 meters.
“I was a club distance cross country runner and the first time I raced a 400-I ran a time of 77 seconds,” said Cram.
“I have no idea why I was entered in it.”
But, inspired by quite a few legends, the young Cram no doubt was able to keep his motivations going.
“The first athlete I looked up to was Jim Alder,” said Cram of the 2:12 Scottish Marathoner, who won the Gold at the 1966 Commonwealth Games over the 26.2 Mile distance.
“Jim was on TV a lot and I remember when I was 8 years old, my dad found out he was running in a race by my house and he was the first athlete I went to look at.”
Cram’s inspirations didn’t end there. “My mother is German and every summer we used to visit Germany,” said Cram. “In the summer of 1972 my dad decided to bring us to Munich a few weeks before the Olympics and even though we weren’t at the Olympics themselves to an 11-year old kid it was unbelievable!”
Cram was able to absorb some of the pre-Olympic atmosphere. “I remember we went to the stadium and it was amazing,” said Cram. “It was like looking at a spaceship!”
During those Games, Cram also joined the legion of Lasse Viren.
“Lasse was the first superstar I looked up to”
The Olympics left quite an impact on Cram. “I was totally hooked after that.”
There was also a fellow Brit competitor that Cram looked at as well. “At my first English Schools Track Championships (1974) I read in “Athletics Weekly” about the 1000 meter race involving Sebastian Coe,” said Cram. “I said to myself, “Oh!…I’m gonna watch this guy!”
“Seb was small and yet he was 5 years older than me and he was good!”
The comparisons of Cram with Coe and Steve Ovett started to grow as well.
“As I got better, their standards were starting to be shown to me,” said Cram.
“I ran a 3:47 1500 meters at 16 years old and people came up to me saying, “That’s faster than Coe and Ovett at that age!”
“From that point on I would use their accomplishments as my benchmarks.”
Fast-Forward to 1985 and Cram (The 1983 World Champion and 1984 Olympic Silver Medalist (Behind Coe!)) was at the peak of his powers, but also bordering on the fine line between peak and injury.
“Today I know the calf issue I had in 1985 was the onset of Compartment Syndrome,” said Cram of every runner’s feared and dreadful visitor.
“In 1985 with no championships to peak in I was able to pick races to run and after each race the calf was sore, and I’d start icing it and not run for 2-3 days…I was balancing staying in shape and racing.”
This unorthodox training method nonetheless led to a stellar season, as Cram first took on Moroccan Legend and rival Said Aouita in the Nice, France 1500 meters, where Cram took off from Aouita with a lap to go and barely held off the fast-closing Moroccan to break the World Record, in one of the most dramatic Track finishes in history.
“In that race I wasn’t concerned too much with time,” said Cram. “Nice taught me I wasn’t going to get beat and if it got me the World Record that was great.”
“I never planned for a World Record there,” admitted Cram, “But I was watching the clock a little bit!”
The day after Cram once again couldn’t run due to the calf flare-up yet continued on, winding up in Oslo against a top field.
While Aouita wasn’t in the field, Sebastian Coe, Jose-Luis Gonzales, John Walker, Steve Scott and Ray Flynn more than made up for it.
Like many record attempts, pacemakers were recruited and Australian Mike Hilliardt and American James Mays led the way.
“The Dream Mile, at Bislett Stadium in Oslo, Norway is the most prestigious event for the world’s top milers,” said Mays recently.
“It’s the Super Bowl, Grand Prix, and World Series all wrapped up in one for the best Milers on the planet. As a Pacesetter in 4 Dream Miles, this fact was not lost on me, as I prepared for the job that I had to perform.
As I arrived at Bislett Stadium, I could feel the Magic in the air. Even though the race was scheduled for Midnight to accommodate a live worldwide audience, the crowd already seemed worked up to a frenzy. It was a perfect night as we began our warm-up an hour before the race was to begin.
I exchanged greetings with the runners prior to the race and told them the splits that we would hit throughout the first 1000m. They were very focused. When I spoke to Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram about the splits, they gave me their usual nonchalant response, lol. Having ran against them and paced for them, I wanted to think that they had enough confidence that I would give them a “smooth ride”.
As we got onto the track and prepared for the start of the race, I tried to pump the runners up and at the same time exude confidence that I was ready for the task at hand. I remembered the last words I spoke to Steve before the race…”Let’s Go!”
As the gun went off, I remembered chopping my steps as to not spike Steve or Sebastian with my back kick. There was a little bit of separation at the 300m, but I maintained my pace as I felt the group would eventually catch up with us. Steve caught up with us, and the race was on. I dropped off at 1,000m.
As Steve came back around to where I was standing, with 200 meters to go, I could see the look on his face and the determination in his stride that he was about to set a new world record.
I realize that I played a very small part in this historic race, but I was very happy for Steve Cram and the other runners who ran their PR’s.”
As the field was towed through splits of 56.01 (400) and 1:53.82 (800) the 3rd lap slowed, so as Cram reached the bell, he knew he had to go.
“In every race that summer I had decided to really go because it could be the last race of the year for me,” said Cram.
The former -youth 77 second 400 runner then stormed home in a last lap of 53.0 seconds (!) before the screaming crowd and broke Coe’s record by more than a second, clocking 3 minutes, 46.32 seconds!
In a deep finish, Gonzales (3:47.22) finished just ahead of Coe (3:47.79) and Scott (3:49.93). Finishing also were Walker (3:53.65 -6th place) and Flynn (3:54.64- 7th place).
A few weeks later Cram would also net the 2000 meter world record (4:51.39) before ending his season.
These days Steve Cram still contributes.
“He’s a great Ambassador for the Sport,” said 3:49 Miler and fellow competitor Jim Spivey.
A NIKE ambassador who also coaches top British runner Laura Weightman, Cram also announces on Television many of the meets, events and races that he loves. “I’m hoping at Monaco (August 14th) we can start getting the Sport going again,” said Cram, ever the positive-minded person whose energies on that magical night 35 years ago brought him to heights never achieved before!