1968, Six o’clock in the morning
The Olympic village was quiet in its lazy sleep, but Kevin Reybur was already awake, and ready to run. The easy 8-mile morning workout was only a part of the blonde-haired phenomenon’s training schedule. Later in the afternoon he would suffer through fifteen miles of pace-work and intervals on the golf cart paths and quiet streets of the peaceful suburbs of Mexico City.
Despite his short legs and strong upper body -unusual characteristics for a distance runner- Kevin was really a man born to run. His specialty was the 5000 meter event. By breaking the Southeastern High School Conference record in his junior year, and setting the national record in his senior year, Kevin had the attention of all of the college scouts and was offered full scholarships to many Universities. He chose to attend D.W. Daniel University because they had the best coach in the country; the one man capable of guiding him to the top. Kevin was confident that he would not only beat the best, but also be the best.
With no idea of what he would major in, his reality was different from most of his university fellows: he wanted to win, and that is the only thought that consumed his mind and soul. Kevin’s performance in collegiate meets got him an invitation to the Olympic Trials, and by winning the trials he earned a spot on the 1968 Olympic team. Just to represent the country in the summer Olympics in Mexico City was never his ambition. He had to win.
“It’s six in the frickin’ morning Kevin! Where the hell are you going in this rain?” his roommate Bert cursed.
” The gold is waiting for me and I can’t lose time listening to your complaints, just because it’s wet outside. I have to work hard to make up for my lack of pure talent.” Kevin replied.
“Hurghf…” Bert sighed and pushed his head deep into his pillow, as he would do every morning for the two weeks of the 17th modern Olympic Games.
Kevin went out in to the bitter morning rain, which quickly soaked through his lucky golden running cap, and covered his head, which was full of thoughts only of the rhythmic pattering of his feet and of the long empty streets ahead. He did not even notice that his toes were wet and blistered. His shoes, well worn from many punishing miles, no longer had the cushioning or fit that he needed. A smear of dried blood on the left shoe marked his latest injury where he got spiked by Viatcheslav Ekimov of the Russian team in practice the day before. The rainwater began to wash out the stain and the red tinted water streaked down over the side of the shoe, mixing with the hand written black ink of the words “Gold Medal”. The national anthem pulsed through in his head, faster and faster, keeping up with the beat of his ever-quickening footsteps. The corners of his mouth curled up, forming a menacing, devious smile. He owned the road.
Despite his winning every single collegiate 5000-meter race that he competed in, most people did not believe he would ever make it to the Olympics. His aggressive, forced stride and his short legs that had to step quicker than those of the natural runners with long rhythmic strides, and lean bodies built for speed made him the under-dog from the start. Also the fact that he was poor and could not afford a nutritionist or professional level equipment was a real concern. The university running team was poorly supported, and all the promised alumni money was used to support the football team, instead of for hiring a nutritionist and other support staff for the track team. The only reason that Kevin stayed at UDWD was that Phil Liggett was the best coach, and best friend that he ever had. Phil was like a father to Kevin, and was the only person that understood why Kevin had to run, and why the sport of running needed Kevin.
Phil was a bold, tall man in his mid-fifties that was once a world class runner, and was now spending his retirement years searching for talents such as Kevin Reybur. And Phil did a good job: in a year’s time the twenty-two-year-old Kevin was running like greased lightning, and taking more records than a junkie in a music store.
As it happened many times during his life, his fierce willpower made him look ahead and follow his destiny. Winning was definitely more important than studying. Of course dropping out of college with a full scholarship in his hand was not the smartest thing to do, so he barely managed to keep his grades up to passing. But his thoughts were consumed by running.
The things that Kevin could not get from the team, he managed to get on his own. Working as a bartender at the college bar was the best way he found to pay for equipment and healthy food. He would go to the health center every week and offer to be a test subject for the student nurses learning how to take blood pressure and temperatures and get the free test results. He would stay and talk to the nurses about his diet and ask what he should be eating every day. After a few weeks of this routine he finally got up the courage to talk to a young nurse about something other than training and diet. Her silky long hair flowed over her shoulders to just above her nametag that read “Faren-student nurse”. It helped a great deal that he didn’t have to ask her name; otherwise he might not have had the courage to even start the conversation. He even had the courage to ask her out. She found him arrogant, yet interesting. And he was a handsome devil. She gave him a chance, and grew to love him. She found that he was not an evil person like many people thought at first impression. His determination inspired her, and she put up with his need to put training before a social life. She became his girlfriend and was his full time nutritionist and masseuse. Kevin never realized how lucky he was.
Kevin returned from his morning run beaming with excitement.
“I’m so stoked, man!” he shouted as he walked into the dorm room.
Bert lifted his head from the pillow and rolled over to see the large numbers on the clock radio.
“6:45! Man, you were flying today. Did you do the whole 8 mile loop?”
“Hell, yeah! I don’t cut my workouts short like you and the other loosers on the team. I’m going to kick ass in the finals, because I work harder than anyone else. I deserve to win.”
“I thought you always went easy in the morning, why were you running so…”
“Shit! You think that was hard. I’ll show you hard this evening at the team workout.”
“Man, fuck you, Kevin! I’m gonna just put on a nose clip and some boots ’cause the shit is just pilin’ up in here. I know you’re lie’n out your skinny white ass, so don’t even try to pull that ‘macho bull shit’ on me. Damn, if you were any more…” Bert stopped short. ” Hey man, I’m sorry, I… enough about running.” He took a shot at turning the situation around, to ease the tension. “Hey, that French chick I was talking to in the cafeteria yesterday invited me to a party in east wing tonight. Why don’t you come too? We’ll have some beers and get to know some people on the other teams.”
Kevin hung his head, ashamed. He was not comfortable with being nice to a competitor that he was intent on destroying in only a few days. They were all his enemies.
“Naw man, I need to spend sometime by myself to get focused. You should do the same, if you care about your performance Thursday. If you don’t stay focused, come Thursday’s final those Russian guys are gonna beat you like a naughty monkey at the Gypsy Ball”
This kind of attitude kept many people from trying to get close to Kevin. If he knew how to show a little kindness and humility, his achievements could have made him a very popular star. But no matter how many races he won, and no matter how dedicated he was to the sport, he could not earn the respect of his teammates. Kevin Reybur did not care. He just wanted to win, and for as long as he was winning the races and his specially prepared menu was still working, absolutely nothing could bother him. Kevin did not have time for friends.
Kevin kept pretty much to himself for the few days before the finals. He looked forward to seeing Faren on Thursday. She was flying in with his parents to watch his race and cheer him on. He kept to the meal plan that she had made for him, and slept every hour that he was not training, eating, or thinking about training and eating… and kicking ass.
Kevin had done everything that he knew to do to prepare for this moment. He decided long ago that this was the calling of his life. He packed away his warm-up suit with his watch and ID tag and training shoes. He slowly zipped the contents inside, deliberately, as if there would no longer be needed. It was race time.
Kevin made his way to the start line just like he had hundreds of times before. But this time it was different. His movements were mechanical, practiced and thoughtless. He made no notice of any other competitor on the track. This was not about them. It was about gold; gold that he had promised himself 15 years ago; his gold.
Time stood still as he was caught by the boldness of the solid white line before him. “START” was spelled out in palm sized print letters. A chill darted down his spine, first ice cold, then numbing warm and fuzzy. A flush came over his face and neck and he became dizzy and weak. He could hear nothing but the beating in his own heart and the flood of warm water caving upon him. His knees began to wobble, and then he remembered to start breathing again. “It’s really happening,” he said, not to himself, but not to anyone else either. A rush of freight overtook him. Would they start this race while he was still in this state of slow motion? He looked up, and around and stood straight tall and turned round full-circle soaking up the moment and the energy of the crowd. He breathed deep and yelled at the top of his lungs with the eyes of a frightened lunatic. He didn’t even notice that everyone had turned to look at him. At once his head cleared and he breathed rapidly. His heart pounded, and he cried a single tear. He was back to the real world now. Sweat filled his brow and flushed the demons with it. He looked up into the stadium seats and searched for the American flag. Faren yelled “Go Kevin!” His eyes followed the voice, and found the flag and Faren beneath it. “Bring It Home!”, shouted mom and dad standing gloriously at Faren’s side. “Bring it home.” He mouthed the words back, though no sound came out.
He looked at the start line a second time, and the monster was no longer there. Kevin looked straight ahead. The corners of his mouth curled up, forming a menacing, devious smile.