Although injury-plagued Alberto Salazar has not run a race this year and recently was told that he was "washed up," he is more excited about his running career than ever.
The reason for his enthusiasm is surgery he underwent Jan. 30 to correct a damaged left knee and a torn right hamstring.
"They were both real successful," said Salazar, the fastest U.S. marathoner in history and owner of American outdoor records in the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters.
"They (doctors) found stuff that was easily correctable. That was what was bothering me for a long time. Sometimes, people would go in there and wouldn't find anything."
Actually, it was one doctor, Glen Almquist of Corona del Mar, who diagnosed the problems, corrected them and provided Salazar with his new-found optimism. Until Salazar met Almquist, he had been depressed and frustrated over the injuries that had hampered him in recent years.
One injury was to the left knee. He suffered that during the U.S. Trials for the 1984 World Cross Country Championships at the Meadowlands race track in East Rutherford, N.J.
"That was a very uneven course," Salazar recalled . "I didn't feel any pain during the race (in which he finished eighth). But the next day, I felt a sharp pain in my kneecap.
"It stayed there on and off throughout the year, even through the Olympics (Salazar finished 15th in the marathon). It wasn't bad, but it did flare up occasionally. I didn't think it was affecting my performance, but after the Olympics, it never got better."
The other injury was to the right hamstring. He suffered that about four years ago, during another race.
In the knee, Salazar said, Almquist "found the fascia was torn completely, and the calf under the skin, which cushions the patella tendon, was torn in half. Underneath that, I had developed tendinitis. A gelatinous substance had accumulated under there."
"Instead of having good clean muscle fibers, there was a gunky type mixture. He removed the bad tissue and put in good tissue.
"I could have taken time off, and hoped that it would get better by itself, but it would never have healed. He reattached the tendon and sewed up the fascia. Now, I just have to let it heal."
The hamstring, explained Salazar, had been bothering him for a long time.
"It was getting progressively worse," Salazar said. "I would train for a month, and then hurt for a month. I would go forward one foot and slip back two feet.
"It was constantly flaring up. I couldn't train properly or consistently. It was continually sore."
What had happened, said Salazar, was that "the hamstring which surrounds the muscle itself and is supposed to slide back freely and smoothly, had attached itself to the sheath. Then, it cut the sheath away, and some fibers underneath, which were pinching the muscle.
Almquist was the third doctor Salazar had spoken to this year about his injuries.
"One doctor said he thought I was finished, I was washed up," Salazar said. "I left his office so depressed.
"The next day, I saw Dr. Almquist, and he told me just the opposite. He said he could operate within about a week.
"One doctor wouldn't operate on either injury. One doctor said he would operate only on my knee. And one said he would operate almost right away. It shows that the sports medicine field is changing so rapidly . . . Even among fine surgeons, there is much discrepancy."
The two operations on Salazar took a total of about 1 1/2 hours, and left him surprised at the results. "The next day I could walk without soreness," he said. "And within two weeks, I was doing leg curls."
"It's amazing. For four years, whenever I tried to stretch the hamstring, I was in constant pain. He (Almquist) just worked around the muscle . . . he never touched it. He just took the sheath off.
"Even when I was running my best times, it bothered me. When I set the 10K record (in 1982), I almost pulled out after three kilometers. I just wonder how much the injury took away from my speed, because I missed the world record by only about three seconds.
"Now, when I'm fully recovered, I feel I'm going to run faster than ever."
Salazar said he should begin jogging again about mid or late-March should be back in competition by June 1 for the Prefontaine Classic at Eugene, Ore.
"I won't be ready to run a fast time in the Pre meet," he said. "It will be like a building block.
"And I won't mind if I'm getting beat early, because I know I will be progressing and I will be back eventually."