Los Angeles — The first thing you should know about Steve Scott is that since 1977 he has been America's best miler, a finely tuned, finely organized athlete who chooses to lead rather than follow.
Yet no one would ever refer to him as one of track's sacrificial rabbits, who sets the pace for other runners to speed up their times and then fades in the stretch. With Steve, it's first at the beginning and more often than not first at the end.
Scott has a kind of flowing style that eats up the ground, makes his stride look computerized, and allowed his face just one emotion -- determination. The man who invented the slow-motion camera to show detail must have had someone like Steve in mind when he began his labors.
Most great athletes, regardless of their sport, continue to show improvement, and Scott is now the second-fastest miler in US history, exceeded only by Jim Ryun. Jim's best time for the mile was 3:51.1; Steve's, 3:51.11.
There is a good chance that Scott, who will do much of his racing in Europe this summer, will break Ryun's record over there.
To those who know Steve well, the adjective probably most used to describe him is tough -- mentally and physically tough. He trains hard; he runs hard; and he is hard on himself mentally, because everything in terms of pacing himself has to be so perfect.
Despite considerable potential during his days at Upland High School in California (he and his wife now live in Arizona), Scott did not attract a lot of recruiters.
But Len Miller, the man who did recruit him for the University of California at Irvine, now uses him as one of his part- time assistant coaches at Arizona State. Even though Steve isn't able to devote as much time as he might like to this activity, his thoroughness as a teacher is hard to miss.
Since stamina is so much a part of track, it may seem silly to dwell on how hard Scott works, but the fact is, he is consistently trying new things that might help him. Miller was once quoted as saying that Steve's workouts are sometimes more exciting than his races.
To show you how dedicated he is, he had to miss his brother's wedding in 1976 to compete in the finals of the US Olympic trials.
People who wonder why Steve always wants to set the pace in races, instead of staying close to the leaders and then making his move, are forgetting one thing.
Although this is mostly theory, most runners who become overly concerned with holding to a certain pace sometimes lose contract with the competition in front of them. By the time they realize what has happened, it is too late to catch up.
What lies ahead for Scott is the normal challenges of any great athlete who keeps getting better. There are records to be broken, records to bet set, with the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics always up ahead.
Where Ryun was considered somewhat thin and fragile, although he later filled out quite a bit, Scott has the build and speed of a wide receiver.
If there are flexible steel cords running through his well-developed legs, the thinking process that he brings to every practice and every race should not go unnoticed. This is a man who plans, who is constantly building up to something big, and who is young enough yet experienced enough to reach his full potential.
How deep that potential goes cannot be measured in strictly material terms. Certainly he has built his legs to the point where they might be called machines.
And certainly he has the dedication common to all great track stars.
But the big thing is the way he can sort it all out mentally and come up with the right answers. In years to come, people who see promising new runners are invariably going to say: "Reminds me a little of Steve Scott, except I wonder if he'll train as hard."