Ben Johnson was running in West Germany, continuing his triumphal and lucrative European tour. Carl Lewis was another absentee, reportedly because meet officials declined to fulfil his demand for $12,000 as compensation for two dashes of slightly more than six seconds each.

Still, the 81st Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden Friday night were an unqualified success, with a crowd of 18,126 paying from $20 to $37 to prove once again that the mile and the pole vault are the meat and potatoes of indoor track.

Six individual mile races were conducted and each generated more than a few roars from the crowd. Reaction to the sprints and hurdles was more restrained; those events are over in a hurry and few fans have views that allow them to appreciate the developments.

As usual, the highlight was the Wanamaker Mile, where Marcus O'Sullivan outkicked Great Britain's Peter Elliott in 3:56.89 to continue Irish domination -- he or countryman Eamonn Coghlan have won the event nine times in the last 12 years.

A close second in the crowd's interest, however, was the Masters mile for runners 40 and over. Although winner Web Loudat might better be called "Who dat?" by track fans, the field included more prominent names like Jim Ryun, Frank Shorter and Peter Snell.

At one time, women's races served as a refreshment break. When Francie Larrieu-Smith and Mary Slaney brought excitement to women's running, the Masters mile became the time for a stroll. No more, not when the legends are taking part. Ryun, eligible for the first time, says the competition can only get better.

"We're going to get faster and better," Ryun said. "We need opportunities to race at one mile, which is a lot different than a road race at 5,000 meters.

"Although I was far back {fifth in 4:29.60}, I felt comfortable and confident. God has given me a fresh opportunity and I'm having as much fun as when I started."

The women are having more fun than ever and one can only wonder what would have happened if Slaney had been ready to run Friday.

Doina Melinte of Romania broke away from Great Britain's Kirsty Wade on the final lap and ran the second-fastest indoor mile ever, 4:21.45. Although the absence of an interpreter precluded any postrace comments, it was obvious Melinte, the Olympic 800-meter champion, was delighted with her trophy as outstanding performer of the meet.

The IC4A Mile produced a Millrose record as Charles Cheruiyot, a Kenyan attending Mount St. Mary's, recorded an outstanding time of 3:57.95, brought through the final lap by a crescendo of sound from the stands.

Even the high school miles were fully appreciated, with contestants coming from as far away as Colorado. There were plenty of spills and chills and, unfortunately, the chief spillee was Greg Early, the Maryland indoor champion from Eleanor Roosevelt.

Early was among the leaders when he tripped and fell halfway through the race. He dropped 40 yards behind, gallantly battled back within 15 yards in sixth place and then ran out of steam, finishing seventh in 4:30.75.

Bob Kennedy of Westerville, Ohio, was the winner in 4:21.46. Christine Gentile of Babylon, N.Y., took the girls' version in 4:54.90.

The pole vault elicited the usual "ooh" and "aah" on every attempt, from the starting height of 17-8 1/2 through the meet-record 19-0 3/4 cleared by winner Thierry Vigneron and runner-up Earl Bell, to the 19-3 3/4 where they ultimately failed.

Overall competition was excellent, considering the vagaries of training commitments in an Olympic year. Ten meet records were broken, including the men's 400 meters, 500 meters and 600 yards, where competitors might be expected to be saving themselves for the autumn in Seoul.