By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
Many baby boomers remember Steve Scott, the U.S. miler who ruled the track in the late 1970s and early '80s. For more than a decade, Scott was the man to watch, running the mile in under 4 minutes every time he raced. From 1977 to 1993, Scott ran a total of 136 sub-4-minute miles, including 15 sub-4-minute miles in one year, making him by far the most prolific sub-4-minute miler in history. His July 1982 mile of 3:47.69 at the Oslo Games in Norway is the outdoor U.S. record.
Scott grew up in the 1960s in Upland, Calif. His mother was a runner who preceded the running boom. His father was an overweight physician who smoked and did not see the value of running. Through his mother's influence and a coach's persistence, Scott ran on Upland's cross country team. He caught track fever watching the 1972 Olympics on television, as U.S. runner Dave Wottle won the gold medal in the 800 meters. Wottle is best remembered for forgetting to take off his cap during the medal ceremony during the national anthem.
The "Wottle Cap" inspired Scott, so he wore a cap in every race of the 1972 cross country season. In his junior year in high school, Scott made the varsity squad as the fifth runner. In track, he concentrated on the shorter distances and ran the 800 in 1:58 and the mile in 4:30. He also met Kim Votaw, a freshman runner who would eventually become his wife.
In his senior year, Scott became the top runner on the cross country team and improved his track times to 1:52 in the 800 and 4:15 in the mile. He finished second in the California state championship in the 800 and drew several college scholarship offers. He liked coach Len Miller and joined him at the University of California at Irvine in the fall of 1974.
Scott ran his first sub-4-minute mile at the Sunkist Invitational in Los Angeles in January 1977, his junior year in college. In the following year, he blossomed from an unknown college runner to an international miler, competing on both sides of the Atlantic. When he graduated with a degree in social ecology in 1978, Scott had already run 11 sub-4-minute miles. He turned to the professional track circuit and ran for a living. He married Kim in 1979 and followed Miller to Arizona.
College years added a psychological dimension to Scott's running. He developed an understanding for the three D's - direction, desire and drive - and their role in athletic success. By then he was a professional runner with family responsibilities, and the three D's were put to the test on a daily basis.
In training, Scott ran several miles every morning followed by an intense track workout in the evening. On the weekend, he ran as far as 20 miles. He routinely exceeded 100 miles per week. This running volume was twice that of today's young milers, which may explain why Scott's U.S. record has stood for 15 years.
During the decade that followed his first sub-4-minute mile, Scott lived out of a suitcase. He traveled the world and competed year-round in the United States, Canada, Jamaica, Germany, Sweden, Norway, England, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland, Greece, Australia and New Zealand. His wife accompanied him to many of his early races. When their first child was born, she remained home in Arizona as he ran to pay the bills.
In May 1994, Scott was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Two surgeries followed. The first surgery removed the diseased testicle. The second surgery removed lymph nodes along the spine that might act as a conduit for the cancer to the rest of the body. On doctor's orders, Scott took time off running. He resumed running in the fall of 1994 and training in the winter of 1995.
In January 1996, Scott ran a mile in 4:08 at the Steve Scott Festival of Races. Approaching 40, he trained to run one more sub-4-minute mile, this time as a master. Only one master had ever run a sub-4-minute mile, as Eamonn Coughlan ran 3:58.15 at age 41 on Harvard's indoor track in 1994. However, Scott's attempt fell short at the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon. He finished in 4:10.43.
Scott continues to train for his 137th sub-4-minute mile. His biography, "Steve Scott The Miler," was published in 1997. It is a testament to direction, desire and drive in achieving running success and victory over disease.
Kamal Jabbour, whose RUNNING Column appears every Monday in The Post-Standard, would be happy with a 5:30 mile at age 40. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at email@example.com.