They jumped the gun at the start of today's New York Marathon, just as they had jumped the gun in writing off Bill Rodgers. Rodgers, who had something less than a spectacular summer, made a spectacular come-from-behind finish, in winning for the fourth straight time here.
The Marathon Man, who found himself in an unaccustomed position, 100th, after the first mile, finally caught the leader, Kirk Pfeffer, inside Central Park, 23.2 miles from the start. Rodgers finished at 2:11:42.
"You don't want someone with you the last couple miles of a marathon," Rodgers said. "I've never had someone with me the last couple miles here. It's tough."
As spectacular as Rodgers, and the park's fall foliage, was Grete Waitz. Running in only her second marathon -- the first was the one she won here last year -- Waltz, who does not consider herself a marathoner, set her second world record over the 26-mile 385-yard course that wound through all five boroughs.
Her time of 2:27:33 was nearly five minutes faster than the women's mark she set here last year. She finished 69th overall.
Last year, the 25-year-old teacher from Oslo was so unknown that the public address announcer could only refer to her by her number. This year, Waitz said the crowd was "cheering at me, and they, especially the girls, want me to beat the men."
New York gave the 11,553 starters (10,677 finished) a warm reception, too warm. Temperature in the 70s attracted a crowd estimated at more than 2 million, but detracted from the race. Marathoning, unlike the World Series, is supposed to be a coolweather sport.
Rodgers, who may have ruined forever his reputation as only a coolweather runner, decided to go out moderately. "I knew it would be a hot race and I decided to bide my time," he said. "I was confident that a 2:11 or 2:12 would win. If it was cool, it might have been 2:09 or 2:10. If it was hot, it would be 2:11 to drop out."
Waitz, who is nothing if not understated, said, "The heat didn't bother me."
Many of the top runners were bothered by the somewhat chaotic start at Staten Island's Verrazano Bridge. Kirk Pfeffer, who led for 15 miles, and ultimately finished second in 2:13:29, said there was so much pushing and shoving at the starting line that one runner remarked, "If you keep pushing, we're going to be in Brooklyn before the race begins.'"
"I don't know if it was the numbers (of runners) so much, as the fact that many runners who were not so fast should not have been ahead of us," said Rodgers. "I think they have to make it more clear who the top runners are."
The confusion was compounded when several press vehicles, which did not jump the gun, were passed by hundreds of runners on the bridge. Frank Shorter, the 1972 Olympic champion who finished seventh, doggedly refused to move out of the way of the press bus directly behind him. Horns honked, as runners banged on dthe bus, angrily gesturing for it to get out of the way.
Two miles into the race, the buses had cleared the runners. The leader at that point was Kevin Shaw of South Africa, who technically was ineligible to run in the race.
International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) policy prohibits athletes from apartheid countries from participating in sanctioned events. Asked how Shaw managed to enter the race, Fred Lebow, the president of the New York Road Runners Club, said, "I don't know. He's got an AAU number."
Running at about a 4:40 pace, past some of Brooklyn's many burned-out buildings, Shaw held onto the lead until 7 1/2 miles. Three runners jockeyed for the lead for the next three-quarters of a mile before Pfeffer, of Boulder, Colo., took it decisively at the 8 1/4 mile mark on Lafayette Avenue.
Pfeffer, who did not decide to run until Saturday morning (he ran 20 miles Wednesday), showed no signs of jet lag. He set a wickedly fast pace of about 4:55 a mile for the next nine miles. His time at the 10-mile mark was 48:21, faster even than last year's pace for the first 10 miles that Rodgers had called "insanely fast." At the half-marathon mark, he was running at a world-record pace.
Looking indefatigable, Pfeffer cruised through Williamsburg, where Orthodox Jews waved and cheered, up the Pulaski Bridge, and into Queens.
As he approached the steep inclines of the Queensboro Bridge that led into Manhattan, he had a 1 1/2-to two-minute lead.
Rodgers, who has been running with Stephen Kenyon of Britain, (who finished third), from the beginning, said, "I didn't even know Pfeffer was in the race. I just said, "There's that guy, let's keep after him." When he reached the Queensboro Bridge, Benji Durden of Atlanta, who finished fifth, "told me Pfeffer had a two-minute lead. I said, "Are you kidding?"
Rodgers, of Melrose, Mass., andDurden dueled their way up First Avenue, gaining on Pfeffer, whose pace had slowed to over five minutes a mile."I did not see Rodgers until 20 miles, said Pfeffer. "But the way I was running, I knew he'd catch me."
Rodgers still wasn't sure: At 20, he still was 1:15 ahead. I thought I'd take second."
Rodgers did not see Pfeffer until he had passed through the Bronx, and was on his way downtown on Fifth Avenue. "It was at 125th Street," Rodgers said. "When I saw him, I knew he was very tired. He had nothing left. He was gutting it out and that's the name of the marathon."
Rodgers, whose name has become synonomous with the marathon, caught up with the faltering Pfeffer at 23.3, "and opened the gap pretty quick." Rodgers, who is too modest to swagger, looked back once and was gone.
Rodgers says this will be the last marathon he will run until the Olympic trials next summer.
Waltz is boycotting the Olympics as a protest against the fact that the longest women's race is 1,500 meters.
Rodgers calls her outrageous. "She's just phenomenal.I have pretty high expectations of her because I know how good she is."
Today, even Waltz knew it. "I knew all the way that I was in the lead," she said. From the beginning, she said, "I didn't run together with the other girls, they were falling behind."
Bruce Robinson and Marge Rosasco were the top Washington-area man and woman finishers. Robinson finished in 2:18:53, good for 20th place. Rosasco finished 30th among women (959th overall) in 3:01:41. Both compete with the Washington Runners Club.