Alberto Salazar has done it fast in more ways than one.
The log book on his living room table shows that he had run more than 30,000 miles in eight years --he was, therefore, on his second lap around the planet Earth -- before he ever ran a marathon.
Now, he has run two marathons. He won the New York City Marathon in 1980 and 1981.
And he has one world record. Some novice. On Oct. 25, he finished the traditional 26-mile 385-yard epic in an untraditional 2 hours 8 minutes 13 seconds. That erased Derek Clayton's 2:08.34 set in 1969.
Now, Alberto Salazar looks up to the ceiling, the way other marathoners look up to him. "I assume I'll be ranked No. 1 in the world when the (Track and Field News) rankings come out in January," he says. He was ranked No. 4 in the world last year. "But I still think I can get better."
He pauses. His eyes don't blink. He is in thought, looking like a computer sorting out the variables. The printout is a prediction. He likes predictions as much as he likes finish lines.
"Some tracks are a lot faster than others, maybe by a minute and a half, he says. "I think I can run 2:05."
He is serious. Alberto Salazar always seems serious.
Now that he has jumped onto the pedestal of the world record, people are eager to listen to Salazar. He has a lot to say about his record, his sport and himself.
He is 23, with a physique that measures 6 feet, 144 pounds, like a breadstick without the salt. He is Cuban-born. His family fled Castro and communism in 1960 to come to the United States. "I'm glad we left," says Salazar.
He has confidence, bordering on cockiness. More accurately, though, he has honesty. He has a highly individualized speaking style, and because his pronoun is always "I" and not the standard "we," he appears brash or brazen to sports writers used to hearing, "Yeah, I played well, but it was goood that we won."
So it is standard for Salazar to say, "I really think I'm as good as anyone in the marathon."
He adds, "The only people I fear -- well, not really fear, but people I think could maybe beat me -- are (Japan's Toshihiko) Seko and (Ethiopia's) Miruts Yifter. Right now, Yifter's not running the marathon, but I hear he might move up.
"My best event is marathoning, but my emphasis is in the 5,000 and 10,000 (meters), because it is the best preparation for the marathon. People don't understand this. They think you have to run one event all the time to be good at it.
"I don't need to run all of those stupid races. I run high-quality races. One or two marathons a year is enough. Bill Rodgers ran every week and won something like 50 races in 55 weeks. Frank Shorter ran all the time, too. People were always talking about them."
Salazar knows he sounds as fierce as his 6-month-old dog, a pit bull named Toby, looks. Underneath that harsh mug, he knows Toby really is docile. Underneath his own docile looks, he knows he is really fierce.
"In the long run, I'll be better off running fewer races. I hope people remember me as the guy who didn't run that often and the guy who set all of those world records."
When he talks of himself, Salazar is assertive. When he talks of The Athletics Congress (TAC), the governing body of American track and field, Salazar is even more outspoken.
"If the people of the TAC were just old men with outdated values and wanted athletes to compete for the fun of it, well, I could go along with that. But these guys in the TAC are young, stinking businessmen . . . They are a profit-making organization that makes decisions on the amount of money they will receive," says Salazar.
Salazar says TAC rules regarding amateur/-professional status are hypocritical. He said so after his world record and said so again after the TAC had sent a release to newspapers rebutting what Salazar had said in New York.
This battle has been going on a lot longer than Salazar has been running the marathon. "The TAC used to say that athletes couldn't make endorsements because they would make money and that would make them professionals. Then they said athletes can make endorsements, but it will be split 50-50 with the TAC. Now, with the trust where athletes put money, the TAC takes 10 percent. That's better than 50 percent, but it is still stealing.
"There are a lot of ways in which top runners can make money. They can hold a clinic and get paid by the (race) director; legally, no one can prove what you got the money for.
"The TAC knows what is going on. When they hear this they will probably say, 'Oh, that damn Salazar is just opening up his big mouth again.' But if they go after one athlete for accepting money under the table, they have to go after all of them. They would wipe out their whole Olympic team.
"If they tried to bar me (from competition) for accepting money, I would take them to court. I would claim every top athlete accepts money under the table. I'd subpoena every runner. Obviously, I hope this doesn't happen."
Has Salazar ever accepted under the table money? Again, he is honest, this time with a smile that shields self-incrimination. "Every top runner has accepted money under the table. I'm not going to hide anything, but I'm not going to say anything, either. Anyone with an IQ of 10 can figure it out."
In the TAC offices in Indianapolis, spokesman Pete Cava has heard Salazar's feelings before. "He's entitled to his own opinions," says Cava. "He can take his 50 percent and 10 percent and add them together and get zero. The TAC does not take any of the athlete's money. The accounts are not between the TAC and the athlete. They are between the athlete and his bank."
It is a marathon battle of technicalities in which no one really knows where the starting line was or where the finish line is. So the war runs on. Just like Alberto Salazar.
When he stands, there is a certain rigidity to the upper half of Salazar's body. It almost seems as though he's at attention for the national anthem.
Perhaps this posture is good practice for the Olympics, where he hopes to be on the victory stand listening to "The Star Spangled Banner."
"I would like to make it through 1988 -- two Olympics. I really don't have any one goal. I could say an Olympic gold medal, but I used to think a world record was my goal. Now, I've got that. It was good when it happened, but I'm not really satisfied. I want more."
He already has proven his value to the New York City Marathon. He predicted in 1980 he would run faster than 2:10 and he ran 2:09.41. Then he said 2:08 in 1981. He got it.
Says George Vallasi, director of operations of the New York Roadrunners, the club that directs the New York City Marathon, "He has made the New York marathon a force in the field of running."
The public relations value of his predictions helps. "I don't consider myself cocky," says Salazar. "Once you get cocky, that leads to your downfall. I go into a race and I am scared. It's not a fear of failure. I guess it's a fear of not knowing what will happen if I don't produce time.
"To me, a prediction is not a dream. It's only honesty. I always qualify it by saying things like the weather could affect my performance. I know I can't win every race. The first time I'm wrong with a prediction, people will come after me."
Until he is wrong, no one will catch him.
Salazar stretches out on the couch in the living room of his two-story town house. There are victory cups and platters everywhere.
The 1980 picture on the table has the Olympic label, showing a handshake with Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn with a Kodak smile, and Amy looking off into the distance. It was taken during the visit to the White House by the U.S. team for the Moscow Olympics, which meant disappointment, not triumph, for Salazar.
"That's one reason why I can't say an Olympic gold medal is a dream. How do I know if the Olympics will even happen?"
The people who are close to him understand Salazar's dreams, if not him.
Says Bill Dellinger, who coaches Salazar as well as athletes at the University of Oregon, "Alberto is obsessed with being the best in the world. He has always been that way."
Don Clary, a former Oregon teammate of Salazar's, runs frequently with Salazar. He has mental toughness, says Clary, who finished fifth in the 1980 Olympic trials in the 5,000 meters. "Alberto has always been so much tougher mentally than other runners. It's unbelievable."
On Dec. 21, Salazar married Molly Morton, 22, a former University of Oregon runner. In a rare moment when he is talking about his weaknesses rather than his strengths, Salazar says, "I am young and I do get too excited and obsessed sometimes. I think Molly will be a stabilizing force."
His stride is odd, nearly a shuffle. One British journalist noted, "It looks as though he were running on hot coals."
Says Dellinger, his coach, "It's a very economical stride."
Says Clary, his running friend, "When you run long enough, you see all kinds of strides."
"Everyone wants a picturesque stride," says Salazar. "But I'm not a ballet dancer."
He runs 17 miles a day, usually 10 in the morning and seven in the afternoon. He's been running since he was 13. Before getting his bachelor's degree in business he sometimes had trouble supplying what the people in track-town Eugene demanded.
"They were looking for the next Steve Prefontaine," says Salazar, who won the 1978 NCAA cross country championship while at Oregon.
Salazar remembers the bad times, too, such as the Falmouth Road Race in 1978, when humidity and fatigue caused his temperature to rise to 108 degrees. He was rushed to the hospital, he says, where his temperature returned to normal within an hour.
"The doctor who was there says my temperature could have been closer to 110, but the thermometer only went up to 108," Salazar says.
He also remembers the self-denial and dedication: "I always believed the marathon was my race. I knew it. I considered myself a marathoner in high school. Many runners aren't long-sighted. I was. For years I thought about the marathon. But I said to myself, 'Wait. Wait until you're older. Your time will come.' "
Alberto Salazar's time has come. "I'm thinking about running Boston next year, along with New York. If Seko (the 1981 Boston Marathon winner) comes, that would lure me. Or if (Australia's) Robert DeCostello were there, that might do it, too. He only missed my record last week by five seconds in Japan (2:08.18).
"It is more important for me to beat people than my own time," says Salazar with impeccable logic. "I already have the world record.