NEW YORK (APPEARED IN 5-STAR EDITION ONLY) — Alberto Salazar lives . . . in the long, lean, swift body of Scottish lass Liz McColgan.
Every 10 years or so, a middle distance runner comes along and drives out the hobgoblins of the marathon. Attempting the 26-mile, 385-yard distance for the first time, they expose the race for what it is: a race, no more.
All week, leading up to yesterday's New York City Marathon, the words of Salazar echoed down from his 1981 romp in his distance debut as McColgan spoke of her maiden voyage through the five boroughs of Olympus on the Hudson.
Respect, that's what the legions who have run a marathon demand for the race. They insist newcomers at least genuflect when talk gets around to "hitting the wall," and speak of the aftereffects of the effort as being roughly equivalent to a year in solitary confinement.
Salazar said, "Look, I'm a fast runner and I can run for a long time. I think I can do a 2:10." Most experts as well as his fellow competitors scoffed, saying not too politely, "You'll find out, kid."
He did and confessed, "it was easier than I thought," as he won.
Same thing with McColgan. Boastful is one of the nicer things they said about Liz before the race for saying things like, "I have enough confidence to know I can beat any of the girls in the field."
As the world champion at 10,000 meters and after setting a world best at 5-K on the roads last week with no speed work, what was McColgan to think, she'd be lucky to make it to the Queensboro Bridge entering Manhattan?
Commentator Marty Liquori, on the slick, interesting ABC telecast, kept saying how Liz "didn't have much respect for the distance." That wasn't it at all. She just wasn't going to concede anything on someone else's say-so.
McColgan's game plan was no game plan. "Actually," she said, "I into any race with two or three plans. I think [strategy] during the race, not before it."
Makes sense, as did Liz's romp to the $20,000 first prize, $25,000 in bonus money and the Mercedes-Benz she picked up for her 2:27:23 effort. She seemed almost apologetic about the time, explaining, "today was about winning. I wasn't concerned with the time. I know I can run faster."
There she goes again, boasting.
Salazar, who won back-to-back-to-back in New York, came to mind as Salvador Garcia was making a strong move at the 18-mile mark and blitzing to a 2:09:28 win among the men. It was the sweetest of victories for Mexico, which has had every right to bemoan an incident that happened to one of its heroes here years ago.
Alberto was in an awesome struggle against Rodolfo Gomez for miles and the Mexican appeared to be the stronger and quicker of the two as they turned into Central Park for the last 600 meters of the race.
There's a short grass and dirt strip where the runners leave one road to pick up another and, as the men hit it, a police motorcycle revved up and cut between the pair, Salazar moving on unimpeded, Gomez caught in the midst of what turned out to be a grade four dust storm.
While McColgan spent the week apparently turning off the running literati, Garcia was given virtually no notice despite finishing runner-up last fall. Then, he all but raged about his terrible luck, explaining blisters had done him in when he had never had the problem before.
Garcia said yesterday he was waiting, waiting, waiting "to attack at the exact moment," exact in this case meaning right.
His main worries were past winner Ibrahim Hussein and countryman Andres Espinoza. It was a double kick for Garcia, a 28-year-old Mexican army sergeant, that Espinoza finished second in 2:10 flat.
Hussein, who has made a career of being patient and running down people in the late going, wasn't devastated when Garcia tossed a 4:26 mile into the mix with eight miles to go. "I thought he would fall apart in Central Park and I'd catch him," said the Kenyan. "But I was the one who tightened up."
McColgan probably never did get around to being properly reverential toward the marathon in the minds of the purists. "It was tough holding back," she said of the seemingly endless chug to the 22-mile mark. "Then the Russian [Olga Markova] surprised me when she pulled up alongside and I decided to go. I started to stride out and relax. It was the best I felt during the whole race."
And, very quickly, Markova, runner-up in 2:28:18, Lisa Martin Ondieki (2:28:23) and everyone else knew this one was in Liz's pocket. Joan Benoit Samuelson, a factor well past the midpoint of the race, finished sixth in 2:33:48.