CHICAGO -- The last time Joan Benoit Samuelson ran a marathon, it was a disaster.
That is why Samuelson is close to withdrawing from Sunday's New York Marathon, which was to be her first marathon since Boston in April 1989.
"I was humbled by Boston, and I don't want to do another one if I'm not right," Samuelson said yesterday from her home outside Freeport, Maine.
Back problems not unlike those that left her in tears last year in Boston have Samuelson "still on the fence about Sunday. It's questionable. I am not ready to run."
Samuelson, the 1984 Olympic marathon champion, had the poorest race of her career at Boston in 1989. She finished ninth in 2 hours, 37 minutes, 52 seconds -- more than 13 minutes behind winner Ingrid Kristiansen.
"A lot of people are expecting me to say this is it," Samuelson said then, speaking of retirement from marathoning. "It isn't."
Samuelson, 33, was hoping to prove that those weren't famous last words. "Everything was go [for New York]," she said. "I was chomping at the bit.
"But I had another problem Monday, and I cut out of a run. Tuesday, it was worse. I'm not right, and if I'm not right I am not going to New York. If I can turn it around with physical therapy, I might go."
Since her last marathon, Samuelson has given birth to a second child, Anders. Since his birth eight months ago, she has run several races.
The most recent was Aug. 19 at Falmouth, Mass., where she finished sixth in a 7.1-miler. The best was a victory by 5 minutes in the Viking Run Half-Marathon on May 27 in Sognefiord, Norway. She covered the distance in 1:12:38 and called it her best race since her daughter, Abigail, was born Oct. 24, 1987.
The trip to Norway was special for another reason. It allowed the Samuelsons to have Anders christened in a traditional Norwegian ceremony. Grete Waitz, Samuelson's longtime friend and rival, and her husband, Jack, were honorary godparents.
Waitz, 37, also could be called the godmother of the New York Marathon. She will be trying for a 10th New York title Sunday after missing the 1989 race with a stress fracture of the pelvis.
"Joan is a 28-year-old with the body of a 55-year-old," said her coach, Bob Sevene, after Samuelson set a U.S. record of 2:21:21 while beating Kristiansen in the 1985 America's Marathon/Chicago.
Persistent injuries, and the job of mothering two children, have allowed Samuelson to run just two marathons in five years.
The New York Marathon was to be a big step in her second comeback. Not that is questionable.