Rosa Mota of Portugal stole the show from the men yesterday with a world-best women's time in the 14th annual Nike Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race.

The race, through East and West Potomac parks, featured a duel for first between Thomas Hunt, a Californian, and Roger Hackney, an Englishman.

But Mota, who won a bronze medal in the Los Angeles Olympic marathon, finished in 53:09, nine seconds better than Joan Benoit Samuelson's previous world best.

"The important thing today was to finish the race," said Mota, who ran with a tender Achilles' tendon. "The Achilles started to hurt a bit the last two miles."

Until Mota crossed the finish line well ahead of second-place women's finisher Lorraine Moller, a New Zealand native now living in Boulder, Colo. (53:48), Hunt and Hackney occupied the spotlight among the 4,700 competitors.

Hunt began his surge with 1 1/2 miles remaining and won in 46:15, just two seconds slower than the course and world best set by Greg Meyer in 1983.

"At the eight-mile mark, I was still feeling good," Hunt said. "At that point, I thought it was time to start thinking about winning the race."

Before that, he had to think about Hackney, a 28-year-old Royal Air Force doctor who finished 10th in the Olympic steeplechase. Hackney had run on Hunt's shoulder since the two left the pack after 4 1/2 miles.

At first, Hunt, 28, who is from San Diego, didn't know who his rival was. "I thought it was Jim Cooper, because they're about the same size," Hunt said.

But Cooper, who finished third, was left back with the other early leaders, including Meyer, of Grand Rapids, Mich., who ran at the front for much of the first four miles.

The leaders ran the first four miles at a steady pace of about 4:35 per mile. Then Hunt and Hackney broke away. "It wasn't like the pace was slow," Hackney said. "No one was making a move. I just made a move to the front. I didn't expect to break away."

"Thom put on a burst at the four- or five-mile mark," Hackney said. "I got stuck behind Sos Bitok. I caught up to him eventually and just sat behind him for the next four or five miles."

As the two leaders doubled back on Ohio Drive and headed for Hains Point, the strapping steeplechaser stayed on the inside shoulder of Hunt. Later, Hackney ran outside Hunt.

At the end of the long Ohio Drive straightaway, Hunt made his move. "He put in four or five bursts," Hackney said. "The pace was getting quicker and quicker and I was getting short of breath. I was at my limit."

With Hunt and Hackney in control of the race, a duel for third ensued. "I remember some guy along the sideline yelled, 'Who wants the money?' " said Cooper, who moved out with about 1,000 meters remaining. " Joseph Kupsang went by me with 600 meters to go, but I stayed close. With about a quarter-mile to go, I went by him."

Cooper, of Winston-Salem, N.C., finished in 47:00, receiving the third-place share of the $18,700 purse, which was split equally between the men and women ($3,000 to each winner).

Within the next three seconds, Kupsang, Bill Reifsynder of State College, Pa., and Jon Sinclair of Fort Collins, Colo., crossed the finish line.

Mota, 27, needed only two miles to move away from Moller, a former Boston Marathon winner and the fifth-place finisher in the 1984 Olympic marathon, and Joan Nesbit of Charlotte, N.C., who finished third.

On the record, Mota's coach, Jose Pedrosa, said, "If this were a normal standard distance, it would be a lot more difficult to break. I suspect Joan Benoit Samuelson has at least come as close in splits or half marathons."