A year ago, Orlando Pizzolato moved into the lead midway through the New York City Marathon and sent the media and thousands of spectators grabbing for the race program to find the identity of this unfamiliar runner from Italy.
"The first time I won New York last year, it was by mistake because nobody knew me," Pizzolato said.
That wasn't the case today, though Pizzolato's repeat victory at this 16th running of the New York City race was almost as surprising. There was little surprise that Grete Waitz of Norway won the women's division for the seventh time.
While Ahmed Saleh of Djibouti and Geoff Smith of Britain were attracting most of the attention with talk of a world record, Pizzolato was receiving cheers and encouragement from the crowds, although he was all but counted out of the race as he trailed Saleh by almost two minutes with 10 miles remaining.
It wasn't until the last two miles of the 26-mile 385-yard race through New York's five boroughs that Pizzolato caught Saleh and kicked to victory in 2 hours 11 minutes 34 seconds.
Although his time was only the 20th best in the race's history and 3:21 off the course record and more than four minutes off Carlos Lopes' world-record 2:07:12, the finish was almost as dramatic as when Alberto Salazar outkicked Rodolfo Gomez in the final 100 meters to win the 1982 race.
Waitz, 32, made sure the women's competition was anything but dramatic by leaving her rivals behind at the 11-mile point. Her time of 2:28:34 was the seventh fastest in the history of the race and 1:14 ahead of runner-up Lisa Martin, 25, of Australia.
More than 19,000 runners registered for the race, making it second to London (21,000) as the largest marathon in the world.
For most of the race, Pizzolato could not see the leader, who was Smith for the first 12 miles through Brooklyn and Saleh for the next 11 miles through Queens and the Bronx. He didn't even break into the top five until the 20-mile point when he quickly surged into second, exactly one minute behind Saleh.
"I knew that the four in front were running very fast, so I moved up slowly until I got into second place," said Pizzolato, 27, who won last year's race in stifling humidity in 2:14:53. Today, the temperature barely broke 70 degrees.
"Step by step, the people in the crowd said (Saleh) looked bad," he said. "When . . . I was able to see him (at about 20 miles) . . . I knew he was in trouble."
Saleh, indeed, was in trouble. After allowing Smith to burn himself out with a blistering 4:46 (mile) pace for 12 miles, Saleh, running with rabbit Bill Reifsnyder of State College, Pa., took the lead and continued the world-record pace with a 1:03:01 at the half-marathon over the Pulaski Bridge into Queens. At that point, Reifsnyder dropped from the race. Smith, who did not finish, also began fading.
Saleh, who ran the third-fastest marathon ever with his 2:08:09 in winning the World Cup marathon in April, remained on record pace at the 30-kilometer (18.6 miles) mark with a 1:30:41 split. Then he ran into trouble. His 18th, 19th and 20th miles were 5:00, 5:01 and 5:23 and, as Saleh struggled with a muscle cramp in his right calf, Pizzolato was closing fast.
Pizzolato passed Smith after 20 miles and had his first glimpse of Saleh at the 21-mile point in the Bronx. By the 24th mile, Pizzolato pulled even with Saleh after trailing the 29-year-old paratrooper by 58 seconds. Pizzolato entered Central Park running very strongly; Saleh struggled up the hills with 5:40 miles. "When Pizzolato caught me," Saleh conceded, "my only worry was about the next (race)."
Saleh struggled home second in 2:12:29. Pat Petersen of Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y., fourth last year, moved into third after 20 miles and finished there in 2:12:59.
Waitz's fourth consecutive victory went as anticipated. She pulled away from Martin at 11 miles and led by 200 meters by the 16-mile point. "We went out a little fast at the beginning and we paid for it at the end," said Waitz, who is planning to coach her husband/coach in Sunday's Marine Corps Marathon in Washington.
Waitz's victory tied her with Clarence DeMar for the second-most victories in the same marathon. DeMar won the Boston Maraton seven times (1911-1930). John Kelley won the Yonkers Marathon eight times between 1956 and 1963.