Clarke changed his basic tactic in the last years of his career. He devised one that added to suffering: a full-bore sprint away from the field with a mile or more to run. “It increased the challenge. But in a way it was refreshing. I knew I could make it through. So instead of dreading those footsteps behind I wanted them to stay there because whoever was making them was killing himself.” If the footsteps were not there and Clarke had broken contact in this way, he was never beaten. He tried to sprint away in Mexico during the 10,000-meter race with a kilometer to go, but he could not escape the altitude natives who swarmed past on the last lap. Clarke finished sixth. Three steps past the line, for the only time in his career, he lost consciousness. When he awoke a few minutes later, an oxygen mask was pressed over his face. The Australian physician attending him was cursing the IOC for having permitted the Games at that altitude. “Oh, God,” he railed. “Look what the bastards have done.”
“I wanted to tell him it was all right,” recalls Clarke, “but I couldn’t. My tongue was so swollen it filled my mouth. I couldn’t speak for two hours.”
The Melbourne newspapers shouted CLARKE FAILS AGAIN.