BOSTON -- He made light of it, but there was hurt behind the words Ibrahim Hussein used to describe his victory in the 95th Boston Marathon yesterday.
Actually, the truth be known, the Kenyan probably got away with a latter day "Brinks Job" when all he was looking to prove was that he shouldn't have been written off so hastily.
Hussein won here in 1988 and captured the New York Marathon the year before that. All he seemed to be reading for the past week was that other guys were going to win.
What, over the hill at 32, supposedly a marathoner's prime?
"I never have a down year," a confused Hussein said of his career that just seemed to end without explanation at this time last year. "Before, my mistake was maybe I race too much. Then I have a bad Achilles' tendon problem."
The injury probably did him good. Four months of rest before six months of training (no racing) back home in Kenya and in Arizona had Hussein raring to go. "When I'm fit I think I can compete with anyone," he reminded one and all.
They obviously forgot. Although, since he hadn't accomplished much in three years, what was there to remember?
While the field, on paper, was there, the competition wasn't. "I was ready to go faster," said the man who ran the second half of the race faster than the first while finishing in 2:11:06.
The early pace was such that Hussein said, "I was praying for someone to come up and run with me."
While the men were being ultra-conservative, the women made as if this was a weekend trip to Las Vegas, tossing caution to the wind and laying down an awesome pace from the gun.
Wanda Panfil of Poland, who can put in a pretty good claim for being the best in the world now after having won here and in New York, London and Japan, prevailed in 2:24:18.
But the performances of Joan Benoit Samuelson and Ingrid Kristiansen, past greats returning to form, had the crowds buzzing as the trio hammered away at a sub-2:20 pace the first third of the race.
Samuelson, who said she would have been happy with a 2:30 and a top 10 finish, bettered that by three minutes and just missed the top three. "These are tears of joys this time, not frustration. I was 11 minutes faster than two years ago," said Samuelson, who gave birth to her second child 14 months ago.
Kristiansen, who finished a difficult pregnancy a little more than eight months ago, fell back to sixth. "It was my legs," she explained. "I just needed a little more time to get them ready."
Despite the brisk early pace (5:26 per mile), Panfil said she felt "comfortable." And, when it slackened a bit after 10 miles, "I decided to press on by myself. I thought I could do 2:22:50, but there was a lot of [head] wind in the second half of the race."
Not that much, apparently, because her time was the second fastest ever behind Samuelson's 2:22:43 in 1983. Yesterday, Samuelson's early charge hurt her later, as Kim Jones of Spokane, Wash., (2:26:40) caught her with a half-mile to go for second. Germany's Uta Pippig (2:26:52) edged her by two seconds for third.
Another second back in fifth was Poland's Kamilla Gradus, as just 15 seconds separated the women finishing 2-3-4-5 -- all of whom finished within the top 60 overall.
Hussein and Panfil earned $55,000 each for their victories.
In the men's race, Hussein was asked how such an outstanding cast could allow the half-marathon to slip by at a better than five-minute pace. "I think they did not run fast because of what was written," he said.
Last year, the first half of the race went by in 1:02:01. Only two of the six Africans who perpetrated that insanity even finished the course and neither won. This was well-chronicled in large headlines. So was the fact Kenyan Douglas Wakiihuri was favored and that several runners planned on running off him.
"Strange," said Hussein. "How do they know if Wakiihuri is in good shape? I think I was the only one who didn't believe what the papers wrote. That's why I won."
Runner-up Abebe Mekonnen of Ethiopia, winner in '89, partially verified Hussein's theory by saying he didn't go with the lead group because "I feel Wakiihuri is in good shape and I go with him."
It was at 25 kilometers (16-plus miles) that Mekonnen finally got ,, clued in. "Too late to catch leaders. I make a mistake."
It was not too costly a mistake, however. Remember, the elite runners pull down huge appearance fees from race sponsor John Hancock Financial Services.
After literally being pushed to the front, Hussein got what he called "a little help" from third-place finisher Andy Ronan, who wasn't invited into the race until a few days ago.
"I set out to run 2:12, so the pace was right up my alley," said Ronan, one of the legion of fine Irish cross country runners from Providence College. "Most of the way, I was waiting for this mad rush from behind by all those great runners, but then I knew it wasn't coming."