S. African wins N.Y. Marathon Mtolo finishes in 2:09:29

Ondieki sets women's mark

November 02, 1992|By Filip Bondy | Filip Bondy,New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- The two weaved through New York City for 26.2 miles, fighting head winds in Staten Island, ignoring Hasidic protesters in Brooklyn and resisting the throngs and the tangos in Manhattan that enticed them to run even faster.

Given his chance at long last, Willie Mtolo, a 28-year-old black South African, bided his time, his eyes trained on the runner ahead and his mind calculating a private race. Lisa Ondieki of Australia took a different route along the same, partitioned streets. She went out fast, first, early, to rid herself of unwanted company from Russia.

In the end, there was a laurel wreath waiting for both yesterday on this near-perfect day for the New York City Marathon. Mtolo broke away from Andres Espinosa of Mexico at the 23-mile mark in Central Park to cross the finish line first in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 29 seconds.

Ondieki, 32, who had placed second in New York twice before and was third here last year, captured this race with a course record for women of 2:24:40. The time placed her 40th overall.

"We have been waiting so long," Mtolo said, speaking for the athletes in South Africa who had endured their long political embargo before being reinstated to international competition this year. "The people in South Africa will be very, very happy."

Mtolo's victory is easily the most significant sports achievement by a black athlete competing for South Africa and one of the most important by any South African. Sydney Maree, another black South African runner, achieved considerable success in track and field, but all of it came after he had left his homeland to attend Villanova University and settle in the United States.

And just as Frank Shorter's victory in the 1972 Olympic marathon triggered a road-racing boom in the United States, the full impact of Mtolo's New York City Marathon victory in South Africa may not be measured for years.

Yesterday's event was a marathon filled with heroism, novelty and internationalism. The top 10 women represented 10 countries, including Olga Markova of Russia in second place in ++ 2:26:38, and Yoshiko Yamamoto of Japan third in 2:29:58. Kim Wan Ki of South Korea was third in the men's race, in 2:10:54, and runners from Brazil, Poland and Italy followed right behind him.

About 200 semi-elite male runners, representing a tiny segment of the 25,000-plus starters from 91 countries, could not wait to run this grueling marathon. They jumped the cannon and created a massive, unrecallable false start.

The cannon never fired, because it might have harmed the runners who had edged into its aim. As a result of the jump start, a 55-second differential was added to the times of all male runners, but the top 100 female runners had hand-held timers that clearly started them at the designated time. After the top 100 women, the times were adjusted to reflect the 55-second differential.

Allan Steinfeld, a race official, said a detailed review of the starting-line film would be made over the next two weeks and that the current listed times are unofficial.

Fred Lebow, the race director diagnosed three years ago with brain cancer, completed his own marathon in 5:32:34.

"I didn't realize the marathon can be this long," Lebow said, shedding tears alongside his running mate, Grete Waitz. Fans pushed against the barricades to cheer his late-afternoon effort, waiting for as long as it took.

Again, the U.S. runners were disappointing, but not disastrous. Ed Eyestone was the top American finisher in the men's division with a time of 2:14:19, for 11th place. The first American woman was Gordon Bloch, a 31-year-old New Yorker, who finished in sixth place, in 2:33:26.

The quality of the field was reflected in the finishing times: 1,258 runners finished under 3 hours, including 34 women, and even more impressive, 24,146 broke five hours.

There were demonstrations along Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn by members of the Hasidic community, who were protesting the acquittal verdict in the murder trial of Lemrick Nelson.

Mtolo and Ondieki did not notice much of what was going around them. Each had a specific competitor to fret about. Mtolo closed a 20-second gap by the 22nd mile, along Fifth Avenue, pulling right behind Espinosa and gulping a glucose pill from a wrist band for the challenge ahead.

"Some magic," Mtolo said later of the five energy pills, which he had wrapped in Velcro. "I knew to save energy for the hills. In the last five kilometers, I went out and he couldn't challenge back. I said, 'The race is mine.' "

Mtolo had feared the Mexican runners more than the others, because there were five elite entrants from that country, training and plotting together. Mtolo had hoped to run with Mark Plaatjes, a South African now living in Boulder, Colo., but Plaatjes pulled out with a hamstring problem yesterday before the start.

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