In 11 Days That Shook the Track World, England's Steve Cram Shatters Two Cherished Records

UPDATED 08/12/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/12/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

England is tradition. It's the playing fields of Eton, the Changing of the Guard...and on July 27, there was a changing of the guard...a major upheaval, in fact—on the playing fields of British track. At the Bislett Mobil Grand Prix in Oslo, Norway, 24-year-old Steve Cram ran a mile in 3:46:31, shattering by more than a second the world record held since 1981 by his arch rival, Sebastian Coe, 28. Just 11 days earlier in Nice, Cram had set a world record in the 1,500 meters. Thus, a middle-distance track star was born—and that too is an English tradition.

"The rest of the milers are going bananas," says Marty Liquori, the ABC-TV analyst who was ranked No. 1 in the world at the mile in 1971. "The crown has been passed." And how! Consider the self-assurance with which Cram plucked the crown off Coe's head. Never pressed by Coe, who finished third, Cram cruised past the Oslo finish line with a fist thrown up in victory—a maneuver that may have cost precious ticks of the clock. "Most records get hacked off in tenths of a second," says Liquori. "This guy won by a second and looks like he can take another full second off."

Cram grew up in Jarrow, an industrial town in the north of England, where he still lives with his wife Karen, a childhood sweetheart. Like most working-class kids, his dream of dreams was to play professional soccer. It was Cram's athletic club coach who, sensing his enormous potential as a runner, persuaded the lad to confine his kicking to the track. Ten years later, at 21, Cram became the youngest runner to win the European 1,500-meter title.

Since Roger Bannister stunned the world with the first sub-four-minute mile in 1954, English athletes have run roughshod over the middle distances: 800 meters, 1,000 meters, 1,500 meters and the mile. Indeed, in an 11-day stretch in 1981 Coe and fellow Englishman Steve Ovett traded world records in the mile three times. Their little game may be up, however. After his victory in Oslo, Cram predicted, "It's the end of Coe and Ovett dominating the middle distances," adding diplomatically, "but don't write them off. It was my night tonight and it might be Seb's next time." Maybe Cram was just indulging in another English tradition—understatement. Because then he issued an ominous warning: "I can go faster."

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