He is a rookie. A natural. A phenom. She is merely a natural and a phenom. It is impossible to say which is more amazing.
Alberto Salazar of Wayland, Mass., running 26 miles 385 yards for the first time in his life, won the 11th annual New York City Marathon Today, setting a course record and running the fastest first-time marathon ever -- 2 hours 9 minutes 41 seconds.
Grete Waitz of Oslo, Norway, running her third marathon, won her third marathon and set her third world record. Her victories have all come in New York the past three years. And you thought only bad things came in threes.
Waitz finished in 2:25.41, 1:52 faster than last year. She finished 74th overall, 35 seconds ahead of the top Washington area finisher, 23-year-old Don Up-house of Columbia, Md., who was 79th overall in 2:26.
The day was as blustery as their times indicated; the efforts more spectacular than the race or even the grizzled visage of the New York City skyline.
But 2 million New Yorkers came out, wraped in down jackets and warmed further by Bloody Marys, toasting the 14,000 starters who would soon be the toast of the town. "I thought I was at home," Waitz said, "not in New York."
one good-hearted, but misguided soul thrust a Bloody Mary toward Salazar late in the race. "I always made sure I took stuff only from kids," he said. "I didn't want to fall down drunk the last couple of miles."
On his entry form, Salazar, 22, a senior at the University of Oregon (and a native of Cuba) had predicted he would run a 2:10 marathon. "I didn't mean I would do it here," he said, handling his laurel wreath as monchalantly as he had the field. "I meant I was capable of it, and that was before I pulled my hamstring on Sept. 1 I got sick of denying I said I would run 2:10. But if I hadn't everyone would have said I was chickening out."
Salazar was never out of contact with the leaders, and by the half-marathon mark (1:04.42) he was in second place behind Steve Floto of Colorando.
The race was so tightly packed through the first 15 miles that Bill Rogers, who finished fifth after four consecutive victories here, fell. Rodgers said, "I guess it was just my time to take a fall."
Rodgers got up with the assistance of another runner and kept going, closing at one point to within 100 yards of the leaders. He was never able to pick up all the time he lost, but he admitted it wouldn't have mattered. Salazar wasn't so sure.
Salazar was given the last rites after he ran himself into the ground in beating Rodgers in the 7.1-mile Falmouth road race one year ago. No one, Rodgers said had a prayer against Salazar today.
The race did not began in earnest until midway across the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan, with a group of perhaps 20 runners packed as tightly as rush-hour traffic. Floto, who led between ninth and 16th miles, had a 20-yard lead midway across the bridge.But the winds gusting to 33 miles per hour and the gatings of the iron walkway (the carpet was washed away in a storm Saturday night) began to take their toll on the group.
As the runners came off the exit ramp into the Manhattan, the pack began to break. Rodolfo Gomez of Mexico, who finished second (2:10.13), John Graham of England (2:211.46), and Jeff Wells of Dallas, who finished fourth (2:11.59), jockeyed for position with Salazar, trading leads and taking turns breaking the wind for the next three miles.
Around the 20-mile mark, Salazar, who has run 20 miles only three times in his life (twice during training in the last month) made his move. As he passed Gomez, the leader at 19, he extended his right hand as if to stay, "Hello, I'm here." Gomez accepted Salazar's hand and his fate. Salazar said, "I just tried to keep contact with the leaders at the beginning and wait until the last six miles to make my move. I felt good with six to go. But I was worried he (Gomez) might feel as good as me."
When Gomez stopped to get a drink of water, he knew it was over. Speaking through an interpreter, Gomez said, "at about 18 or 19 miles I was running with him. After I stopped to drink, we ran more or less at the same pace (Salazar ran a subfive minute pace for the entire race) but I realized he was going to take the lead."
Still, Gomez, who finished sixth at the Moscow Olympics, dogged Salazar through the Bronx, across the Madison Avenue Bridge to the Grand Concourse, the 21-mile mark. "I saw him get the water," Salazar said. "I didn't think about taking off. He was about 10 yards behind. Then someone said he was hurting. I looked back again and he was 15 yards behind."
Salazar opened a 75-yard lead as he hurtled down fifth Avenue toward Central Park. Did it hurt? "I heard all this stuff about the magic mark 20 miles, where all your energy gets used up and you get double vision. But I really didn't hurt until the last half-mile, and it sure felt good to cross the finish line."
Waitz coasted through the entire race, if anyone can coast that long. She took the lead for good just beyond the three-mile mark. Don Kardong, a writer and marathoner running with her, said, "She never looked back. I thought it was kind of of impolite. It was also awesome." Patti Catalano of West Roxbury, Mass., placed second with an American record of 2:29.33 a time second only to Waitz in the world. "I felt really good," Catalano said, "but I just couldn't get my legs to go any faster."
Catalano, the early leader, was passed by Waitz between three and four miles and they by Ingrid Christensen, also of Norway, at five miles. But Catalano caught Christensen again at 13 and went ahead two miles later. "There was no way to catch Grete," she said. "I didn't even get a glimpse of her after 10."
Waitz "more or less" ran against herself and against the men the rest of the way. "I passed (Lasse) Viren, who dropped out, at 10 miles," Waitz said. "When I got at the half-marathon mark I thought I could win it. I saw the time, 1:12.40, and I understood I had a chance for a record. It depended on the wind."
Waitz said the wind was so strong on the Queensboro Bridge that she felt she was running in place. But by the time she got to Central Park she was at gale force. "I felt pretty good," she said."I had showed down in the middle because I thought I was going too fast. I ran the last three miles much faster than last year." For the last four miles she ran at a 5:37 pace.
Heaven only knows what she'll do in 1981.