Pole vaulters, high jumpers and sprinters provide their share of "oohs" and "aahs" at an indoor track meet, but the mile remains the glamor event. A year ago at Cole Field House, Dick Buerkle provided the ultimate milestone by racing to a world indoor record of 3:54.9.
Although Buerkle will not be present Friday night, because of the burden of moving his family from Buffalo to Colorado, this edition of the National Invitational mile contains all the ingredients necessary for another thriller.
The field includes European record holder Thomas Wessinghage of West Germany, South African Sydney Maree, Paul Cummings, Steve Lacy, Matt Centrowitz, John Tuttle -- and the incomparable Marty Liquori.
Liquori, whose meet record of 3:57.7 was blitzed by Buerkle, vows a fast time, perhaps even faster than Buerkle's breakthrough.Liquori thinks the mile's magic would be enhanced if meet director Gerry McGee would pull a rabbit out of his hat, but regardless he expects a speed trip.
"Everybody is in great shape and it's hard to imagine it will be a slow race," Liquori said. "The record could go. Paul Cummings last week, timewise, was faster than Buerkle."
Cummings clocked 3:37.6 for 1,500 meters in the Muhammad Ali Invitational at Long Beach, Calif., the equivalent of a 3:54-plus mile, as he placed second to John Walker's world indoor record of 3:37.4.Maree and Liquori were close behind.
"I'd be happy with that time (equivalent 3:57) anytime during the winter," Liquori said, "much less the first race."
Although it would seem that Liquori has been running forever, he is not yet 30, and he believes his best race is still ahead of him.
There are some wonderful races in his past, since he first broke 4 minutes as a high school student at New Jersey's Essex Catholic and became an Olympic finalist in 1968 at age 19. Liquori's tactical mastery shattered Jim Ryun as he became the world's best miler.
In recent years, Liquori has moved up to 5,000 meters, earning No. 1 world status in 1977 and lowering the American record to 13:15.1. He had world-record ambitions in that event last year, until Kenya's Henry Rono ran his stunning 13:08.4.
Liquori's return to his old standby, the mile, is not a runaway from Rono, despite Liquori's comments a year ago that the mile "got to be a boring race" and he "really lost interest" after Walker won the race through the 3.50 barrier.
"I'm running the mile this year for two reasons," Liquori said. "I just didn't want to have a real hard year this year and I want to work on my speed for the Moscow Olympics. I have to brush up on my speed, because I had no fast miles last year.
"I think Rono can be had in the 5,000. But I don't think about particular athletes. I just try to run my best possible race. I've seen a lot of guys come and go. I've seen them kicked by a cow six months before a race and on the other hand somebody could come out of nowhere better than Rono. I can improve on my times so far and I intend to."
Liquori has never been kicked by a cow, but he has been snake bit since that first taste of Olympic competition. In 1972, he was the 1,500-meter favorite until a foot injury forced him to stop training. In 1976, he pulled a hamstring during the National AAU championships.