For the second straight year, the challenge has been put to race director Fred Lebow and his New York City Marathon. Can the 16th running of the world's second-largest marathon Sunday top the showcase performance of world-class athletes at America's Marathon in Chicago seven days before?

Last year, Chicago handily won the battle of marathon stars when Steve Jones of Britain set the then-world record. The 1984 New York City Marathon countered with a heat-effected victory by an unknown Italian named Orlando Pizzolato and Norwegian Grete Waitz's sixth title there.

Jones was a second off the world record (2:07:12 by Carlos Lopes of Portugal) last week in Chicago and Joan Benoit Samuelson missed the women's world mark by 16 seconds. Sunday, Star Wars II resumes here with the Empire State Strikes Back.

"This is the best field we've ever had," Lebow said. "I don't think any marathon has ever been as deep as this one."

Lebow's race has a talented field and a record 19,230 entrants from 74 countries, making it the largest such race in the world after the London Marathon, which attracted 21,000 runners this year.

The New York race, which will begin at 10:45 a.m. on the Staten Island side of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, will be telecast live for three hours by ABC (WJLA-TV-7), with the broadcast starting at 10:30.

Sunday, millions of spectators who line the 26-mile 385-yard course that winds through all five boroughs will be treated to stars of the present and several familiar faces from the past.

Ahmed Saleh, from the small east African nation of Djibouti, will be making his first visit to New York and is favored in the men's division. Saleh won the 1985 World Cup marathon in Hiroshima in 2:08:09, the third-fastest time ever.

Other men seeking a share of the $273,800 of prize money include defending champion Pizzolato; Geoff Smith of Britain, a two-time Boston Marathon champion and runner-up in New York in 1983; Frank Shorter, the 1972 Olympic gold medalist and 1976 silver medalist, and Bill Rodgers, a four-time winner in New York and Boston.

In addition to Waitz, the women's field will have six runners who have broken 2:30 -- Julie Brown of the United States, Lisa Martin of Australia, Lorraine Moller of New Zealand, Laura Fogli of Italy, Jacqueline Gareau of Canada and Priscilla Welsh of Great Britain.