By any objective standard, the track and field portion of the 22nd Olympiad was compelling. There were 16 Olympic and seven world records set. With the Americans here, the nine-day meet that ended today would have been memorable.
Athletics is the cornerstone of the Games -- and the events here offered both inspiration and blatant homerism at its worst, with the British providing just the credibility President Carter worked to avoid. If they had not been so prominently touted beforehand, the names of Coe and Ovett would scarcely have been mentioned.
It would have been almost impossible for the 800-and 1,500-meter races to be as thrilling as forecast, but the world's two best runners at those distances ran like human claimers. Each won at the other's best distance -- and nerves may have conquered both, for their times here would have left them yards up the track against their best performances.
An American either would have won each of those races, or pushed Coe and Ovett into winning times that would have been considered Olympic. And while homerism already has been broached, speculation on American success seems in order.
Probably, U.S. athletes would have at least five track and field gold medals. Edwin Moses, in the 400-meter hurdles, and Skeets Nehemiah, in the 110-meter hurdles, might well have smashed their world records. Mac Wilkins might have thrown the discus too far to be measured incorrectly by Soviet judges and Americans probably would have won both men's relays.
When Volker Beck of East Germany won the 400-meter hurdles, dropped to the track and kissed it, cynics in Lenin Central Stadium joked that it was because his time might not have been better than fourth had the Americans and West Germans been here.
The reason was far more meaningful. Last year his race in the European Cup was being televised back to his hometown and a coworker in the rail yard yelled at Beck's father to come quickly and watch it. Unmindful of anything else, Beck's father ran across the tracks and was struck dead by a train.
The outstanding athlete of track and field might have been Miruts Yifter, who is either in his late 30s or early 40s but still is swift enough to win both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Or it might have been Lutz Dombrowski, who became just the second man ever to long jump more than 28 feet and averaged an astonishing 27 feet 3 1/4 inches on five leaps.
Or another unheralded East German, Gerd Wessig, might have been the best. His event was the high jump, the last of track and field to end. And he finished with a world-record effort, tumbling off the landing mat and onto his head in joy when he realized he had achieved it.
The best team effort of the meet might have been the Soviet officials who judged the controversial triple jump and the men's javelin and shot put. Or it might have been the Ethiopians who helped Yifter to his double.
Three Ethiopians ran down two Finns in the 10,000 allowing Yifter, with his sensational kick, to win. In the 5,000 today, one of his buddies, Mohammed Kedir, sacrificed his own chances of winning to open what seemed a hopeless box and allow Yifter to reach the tape first again.
With about 300 meters to go. Yifter appeared to have no room in which to unleash his special burst of speed.
Why would such a gifted runner put himself in such a mess? Soon it developed that there was no mess at all, for with about 200 meters left Kedir -- the leader -- looked over his shoulder and suddenly veered to his right.
With an open path, Yifter sped by Eamonn Coghlan on the outside and held off Suleiman Nyambui to win. Good scout Kedir finished 12th. In two lengths of a football field, he went from first to last.
The 103,000 attending the final day of track and field were especially nationalistic today. If a Soviet was not involved in the race, it was treated as little more than casual exercise. There was no sense of overwhelming anticipation before Coe vs. Ovett. Of course, neither deserved overwhelming applause at the end.
Still, this week's Coe-Ovett race of the century seemed infinitely preferable to last week's. Unlike in the 800 final, neither seemed to make any major tactical blunders in the 1,500 -- and the heart beat a bit faster when they charged off the final turn.
Coe had seemed to start his kick a bit late, and his holding off Ovett the final 100 meters was fine drama. Then came the sour part, the glance toward the clock that said both were capable of running nearly six seconds faster.
In truth, the best 1,500-meter performance came from a woman. Tatyana Kazankina of the Soviet Union ran nearly five seconds faster today than any previous Olympic winner of the event. She was only 1.4 seconds slower than the 3:55 world record she set here July 6.
Kazankina won driving, as they say at other tracks, and the crowd loved her.Had she faltered, the reception surely would have been drastically different. The Soviets are tough fans, fiercly partisan, and fiercly demanding of their athletes.
That was evident during the women's 1,600-meter relay. The Soviet anchor had a three-meter lead at the exchange and kept in the next 250 meters. The crowd tried to carry her on an emotional wave.
Then she faltered and the world's best woman at 400 meters, Marita Koch of East Germany, seemed about to catch her. You never saw such a personality change rip through a crowd. Philadelphia fans were never this fickle. Whistles and jeers drowned out the applause.
But the Soviet runner prevailed, in a wonderful finish, and the crowd was on her side again. But it already has set an unofficial Olympic record, in the what-have-you-done-for-us-lately event.