NEW YORK, NOV. 1 -- After winning two consecutive Honolulu marathons, Ibrahim Hussein of Kenya did a little research. He discovered that Rod Dixon, after winning back-to-back Honolulu races, won the New York City Marathon, so Hussein decided to "follow in the footsteps of that guy."

After two tries -- getting as close as fourth last year -- Hussein chased Pat Petersen for 14 of the 26-plus miles today, then passed him and won the 18th running of the New York City Marathon in 2 hours 11 minutes 1 second. That was a personal best for Hussein, but considerably off the world mark of 2:07:12.

Petersen faded in the closing miles through Central Park and, in an all-out sprint, Gianni DeMadonna of Italy and Pete Pfitzinger of Wellesley, Mass., also passed him. DeMadonna outleaned Pfitzinger for second place, in 2:11:53 to 2:11:54. Petersen was fourth in 2:12:03.

The top 20 men are all between 27 and 33 years old. Among the women, Britain's Priscilla Welch ran away from competitors 10 years her junior. Leaving her rivals at four miles, she went on alone to win by better than a minute in 2:30:17. Welch will be 43 on Nov. 22; the oldest previous winner was Miki Gorman, 42 years 75 days, in 1977.

Afterward, when reporters brought it up, Welch called worrying about one's age a "social disease," with which she was not afflicted.

Hussein and Welch each won $25,000 and a Mercedes-Benz. "That'll be nice," said Welch. "{Husband} Dave's got himself a nice car now." He is her full-time coach.

Francoise Bonnet, 30, of France moved up gradually through the race, overtaking Nellie Aerts of Belgium for fourth at 16 miles and moving into second for the women at 22 miles. She held her position, clocking 2:31:22. Jocelyne Villeton of France took third in 2:32:03.

At the start, Petersen, of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., immediately threw everyone's strategy into the bay when he rabbited off to an 11-second lead in the first two miles. With 21 men in the race who had done marathons in 2:11 or less, a large, tightly packed group was expected to run together for much of the race.

Petersen's plans to turn last year's 103rd place into this year's first began to evaporate in the rising temperatures when Hussein left Pulaski Bridge for Vernon Boulevard five seconds behind.

"Being from New York, I was so pumped up, my adrenaline was so high, boom, I took off," said Petersen. "In years past I've taken the same pace and found myself in 30th {place}. I refused to go slow because no one else would get out there."

Petersen, running next to a fellow in a chef outfit, opened with one of only two five-minute miles he ran during the race, a 5:04. He reeled off his next 10 miles in 48:06, keeping his mile splits at or near 4:40.

Then, at 13, Petersen slowed to his second five-minute mile. Within a mile, Hussein passed him. In the first 10 miles, Hussein had trailed by more than a minute and at various points on the course was not even visible behind Petersen because of the narrow roads and haze.

"I actually felt some relief," said Petersen. "You know, when you're running by yourself and you know there are some 22,000 people in the race, plus all the media and everybody else, it's the most lonely feeling in the world . . . It was like a burden was lifted when he passed me."

For most of the runners, this marathon was a milestone. Most were using it as a gauge of their readiness for the Olympics next September. For Hussein, 29, it was imperative he make a good showing since he sat out the World Championships marathon in Rome because of an injury. His countryman, Douglas Wakiihuru, won that race.

"My hamstring was bothering me, so I went but didn't race," he said. "So now {Wakiihuru} is an almost certain choice for the Olympic team. So I had to do something like this. I think this win will give me an automatic place on the team, too."

He was surprised when the field let Petersen go. But he wasn't about to blow his chances the way Geoff Smith did when he led until Central Park, less than six miles from the finish, before being passed by Dixon in 1983.

"I normally run out fast but I didn't want to run that fast today, but I also didn't want to let {Petersen} have an advantage," Hussein said. "It was an open field today. But Petersen is a serious runner and if you let him get a big lead, it would have been very difficult for us."

But Hussein passed first Rudolpho Gomez of Italy, then Agapius Masong of Tanzania and pursued Petersen alone.

Welch said she doesn't consider herself old because she has been in the sport only since 1980 when she ran her first marathon in 3:26.

"I really don't know how you're supposed to feel at 40. I don't know, maybe I haven't grown up yet," she said.

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