Allan Steinfeld, the race coordinator for the New York City Marathon, sat glumly with his head in his hands. "What I'm worried about," he said, looking up, "is when we get a world record. Will everyone (at the finish line) stop, stunned, do no work? Or will everyone keep going?"
The question prior to this 12th New York Marathon seems to be not whether Alberto Salazar, the defending champion, will win again, but by how much will he break Derek Clayton's world record (2:08.34). On last year's entry form, Salazar said he would run 2:10 in his first marathon. He ran the 26 miles 385 yards in 2:09.41, the fastest first-time marathon ever. This year, he filled in the blank: 2:08.
"I've been calling him Muhammad Salazar," said Bill Dellinger, Salazar's coach at the University of Oregon.
"I'm convinced 1 minute and 40 seconds is not that much faster than last year," Salazar said. "Both my strength and my speed are up. I'm doing a lot of talking now but at some time in Sunday's race, I'll have to talk to myself and then run the race of my life."
Salazar, 23, seems to regard setting the record as an act of volition. For many of the 16,500 runners entered finishing is an act of volition.
He says he's confident he could go out and set the pace (4:52 a mile) and has asked Fred Lebow, the race director, to have special spotters give him his time for each mile after the 10-mile mark. "He doesn't want to know the distance or his cumulative time," Lebow said. "He just wants to be consistent."
Although others disagree, Salazar says, "Even if we go out in 1:05 for the half, I can close fast in 1:03. . . if they want to wait until the end, I'll end. If they go out fast, I'll get the record."
"They" include John Graham of Birmingham, England, who was third here in 1980 and comes into the race with the fastest 1981 time, 2:09.28. "I feel a world record in my legs," Graham said. "I can handle any pace Alberto can throw at me."
Rodolfo Gomez, 29, of Mexico, who finished second to Salazar here last year (2:10.13) after stopping for a glass of water at the 18-mile mark, is running. So are Kirk Pfeffer (2:10.29), John Lodwick (2:10.54) and Tony Sandoval (2:10.19).
Bill Rodgers, a four-time winner here (1976-1979) will run but he won't be wearing the familiar No. 1. He no longer has that ranking. Rodgers entered the race Friday after saying categorically last July that he would not do so.
The turnaround was apparently motivated by financial considerations, with two sponsors, and the network television exposure (ABC is televising the race live for the first time 10:30 a.m., WJLA-TV-7 ). Rodgers will be wearing the logos of two companies; Perrier will appear on his shirt and Rooney-Pace, an investment company, will be on his shorts.
Friday, Rodgers appeared on a local news show and, when the interview ended, the questioner said, "See you Monday when we have the winner on." Rodgers replied, "I'll be watching."
Don Kardong, the president of the Association for Road Racing Athletes (ARRA), said, "I think a lot of runners are disappointed that he showed up to run there because he had taken such a strong stance against Fred's way of doing things."
Lebow's way of doing things means an under-the-table prize-money structure for the third consecutive year. "We've got information from a source at the New York Road Runners Club that the prize money for the men begins at $14,000 and goes down $10,000, $8,000, $6,000, $4,000, all the way down 12 places," said Kardong, with bonuses for world, American and course records.
According to other ARRA sources, the prize money for the women begins at $8,000 and goes down 10 places. However, sources close to ARRA say that the specifics of the prize-money structure have been kept deliberately vague in order to prevent potential leaks to the press and to avoid problems with violations of rules of The Athletics Congress.
Lebow denies there is any under-the-table prize money and jokes about it. "Ruth Goldfarb (age 80) and John Kelly (who ran his 50th Boston Marathon in April) are getting under-the-table money," Lebow said, laughing.
Several top runners, including Benji Durden, Lorraine Moller, Patti Catalano and Greg Meyer, will not compete because they have been suspended by TAC for accepting prize money in ARRA races.
"I don't think the field is all that good," Kardong said. "The women's field will be great only if Grete Waitz is there, by virtue of her being great."
Waitz, the world record-holder (2:25.41) and the winner of the last two NYC marathons, will be there but no one knows how far she'll get. She has shin splints and her physician agreed to let her run only if she promised to quit if she was in pain.
"She's far from 100 percent but she's going to try it," said her husband, Jack Waitz. "Monday, she couldn't walk. This morning, she ran 45 minutes without feeling any pain. I think she will finish. But, to be honest, she says it's going to be very hard afterwards."
Other top women here include Allison Roe of New Zealand, who won the 1981 Boston marathon in 2:26.45. But she, too, was scheduled to see a physician for a leg injury. "It's something very slight," Lebow said, "but it's enough to make me nervous."
Julie Shea, who was fourth in Boston in 2:30.54, and Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway, whose personal best is 2:34:24, will also be worth watching, Waitz says.