NEW YORK, NOV. 4 -- The story of today's New York City Marathon was not who won it, but who did not. On a day too warm for fast times, two previous champions fell by the wayside, the top U.S. male hopeful ended up taking a cab to the finish line and the best battle of all might have been the women's race -- if it had lasted a mile longer.

Douglas Wakiihuri of Kenya, the 1987 world champion and 1988 Olympic silver medalist, took the lead 20 miles into the marathon and won the slowest men's race here since 1984 in 2 hours 12 minutes 39 seconds.

As the temperature reached 72 degrees, his challengers faded and he ran alone.

Mexico's Salvador Garcia, his head shaved for the occasion, finished a feisty 40 seconds behind.

Britain's Steve Brace took off his sunglasses midway through to finish third in 2:13:32.

Defending champion Juma Ikangaa of Tanzania battled a severe leg cramp to place fourth in 2:14:32.

Ken Martin of Dallas, last year's surprising runner-up who has suffered from an unknown virus the last two months, started walking 16 miles into the race and hopped into a taxi at 19 miles, a non-finisher.

The closest women's race in New York history was won by Wanda Panfil of Poland, who now lives with her husband in Mexico City, by five seconds over Kim Jones of Spokane, Wash. Halfway through the 26-mile 385-yard race, headed for a 2:30:45 clocking, Panfil held a 62-second lead over Jones, who never has placed lower than fifth in any marathon she has finished.

But Jones slowly reeled her in. At the 24-mile mark, she had cut Panfil's margin to 39 seconds. At 25 miles, it was seven seconds. As they ran Central Park to the finish, Jones thought she might catch Panfil, third-fastest woman marathoner in the world the past two years.

"She slowed down and I gave it my best try," said Jones, who was second here last year also. " . . . I pushed it as hard as I could. I didn't quite make it to her at the finish, though. Five seconds is a lot."

Much more noteworthy was the fourth place of nine-time New York champion Grete Waitz of Norway, who at age 37 has been bothered by various injuries to feet, pelvis, back and hip and hadn't run a marathon since winning here in 1988. Nine times Waitz had run New York, and nine times she had won. But this time she never led after the third mile and ran her slowest New York ever, 2:34:34.

"I came into this race with open eyes," Waitz said. "I ran a pretty good race. With my special circumstances, it was important to finish the race. It shows I can be competitive again, but I need more than three months of training to do that."

"Grete was not 100 percent," Jones said. "We all knew that."

Wakiihuri and Panfil each won $26,385 and a new Mercedes-Benz for their performances in the marathon, for the first time run as a fund-raising event for the Stop Cancer charity. That campaign was selected in honor of race founder and director Fred Lebow, who has brain cancer but still orchestrated the entire event from his customary perch atop the back seat of the pace car.

In the men's race, for the first time ever, no American made the top 20. Mohamed Idris of Brooklyn gained fame by taking 22nd in 2:22:23.

The dearth of American men can be explained by two things: next weekend's Columbus (Ohio) Marathon enticed most of the top U.S. men to compete for world championship and Pan American Games spots, but, as Martin also said, "We are definitely in a down slump."

Wakiihuri, 27, Kenya's most honored active marathoner, ran his fastest time of 2:09:03 last year in London but came nowhere close to that today.

"I was feeling very good, relaxed," he said as he explained his decision to surge into the lead from a pack of four runners 20 miles into the race. "I had some energy left. I wasn't expecting anybody to come after me from that point on. If I could go at 20 miles and no one would come, I knew they wouldn't come later."

Panfil, who won this year's London Marathon four minutes faster than her time today, was clutching her side as she ran the last half of today's race. She said she had never run before in such warm weather and thus had to drink water during a marathon. Thus, cramps.

Panfil took the lead after nine miles and said she didn't know who the woman was who ran behind her. It was Jones, but, as it turned out, Panfil never had to know.