Silva backtracks to get victory

November 07, 1994|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- The standard marathon distance is 26 miles, 385 yards, unless you happen to be German Silva of Mexico, who took an alarming detour into Central Park yesterday only to slam on the brakes, retrace his steps and rescue a stirring victory from heartbreaking disaster in the strangest, closest finish ever run in the New York City Marathon.

From the 23-mile mark, Silva ran shoulder to shoulder with his countryman and training partner, Benjamin Paredes, dropping a pack of runners on a hot, rainy, humid day that claimed the life of 37-year-old Pierre Marguet of Brooklyn, who went into cardiac arrest at the finish line. Another runner, an unidentified man said to be 45, also died. These were the second and third deaths recorded in the 25 years of the New York City Marathon.

The women's race was marked not by a finishing drama, but by a blistering surge in the final 13 miles by Tecla Loroupe, a 21-year-old from Kenya who became the first black African woman to win a major marathon. Her time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, 37 seconds was more than two minutes ahead of Madina Biktagirova (2:30:00) of Belarus and Anne Marie Letko (2:30:19) of Glen Gardner, N.J.

Silva, on the other hand, came perilously close to becoming the Wrong Way Riegels of distance running.

He eventually won with a time of 2:11:21, two seconds ahead of Paredes. But as the runners headed out of Central Park onto Central Park South and were crossing 7th Avenue at the 25.5-mile mark -- seven-tenths of a mile from the finish -- the unimaginable happened.

With a police officer gesturing for him to continue west toward Columbus Circle, Silva veered instead into the park, apparently following vehicles carrying the race director, Allan Steinfeld, the official timer and photographers. A throbbing crowd had been cheering the racers on. Now Silva saw only a few incredulous, wrenched faces.

"I saw the faces and I knew I had made a mistake," Silva said. "I didn't have to ask anybody."

As a second police officer pointed back toward the course, Silva turned and saw that Paredes had continued along Central Park South. By now, Silva had taken 12 strides in the wrong direction. His first thought was panic.

"This is it," Silva told himself.

When Silva turned prematurely into the park, Paredes seemed confused for a moment and appeared to slow down, as if to

follow his friend, but he stayed on course and stepped on the gas, gaining a lead of about 40 yards.

Silva regained his composure quickly. He had predicted victory several days earlier. He had trained earnestly for months, running at altitude in a forest outside of Mexico City. He had survived torturous training runs up the side of a volcano. And now he had run for two hours in 67-degree weather, with lTC 78-degree humidity.

"I had done too much work," Silva said. "I was thinking, 'Even if I break myself, I will catch him.' "

He reversed his course, took a right at Central Park South and the chase began. Silva lost 12 or 13 seconds, by his own estimate, but easily he slipped into another gear. Three months ago, he had finished second by one second at the world half-marathon championships in Oslo. An Olympian at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Silva had also run a 10,000-meter race in 27:46. He had a finishing kick that Paredes could not match.

Rapidly, Silva made up the gap as the runners continued along Central Park South for a final crosstown block before turning up into the park at Columbus Circle. Just before the 26-mile mark, where Rod Dixon of New Zealand passed Geoff Smith of Britain to win the 1983 race, Silva gained the lead. The time was 2:10:42, only 39 seconds from the finish. As his friend went by, Paredes extended his left hand and patted Silva on the back.


1, German Silva, Mexico, 2 hours, 11 minutes, 21 seconds; 2, Benjamin Paredes, Mexico, 2:11:23; 3, Arturo Barrios, Boulder, Colo., 2:11:43; 4, Sammy Lelei, Kenya, 2:12:24; 5, Domingos Castro, Portugal, 2:12:49;

6, Kenjiro Jitsui, Japan, 2:13:01; 7, Lezsek Beblo, Poland, 2:13:12; 8, Isidro Rico, Mexico, 2:13:22; 9, Salvatore Bettiol, Italy, 2:13:44; 10, Michael Kapkiai, Kenya, 2:14:38.


1, Tecla Loroupe, Kenya, 2:27:37; 2, Madina Biktagirova, Belarus, 3, Anne Marie Letko, Glen Gardner, N.J., 2:30:19; 4, Anuta Catuna, Romania, 2:31:26; 5, Claudia Lokar, Germany, 2:31:47;

6, Olga Appell, Albuquerque, N.M., 2:32:45; 7, Ritva Lemettinen, Finland, 2:33:11; 8, Albertina Dias, Portugal, 2:34:14; 9, Alena Peterkova, Czech Republic, 2:35:43; 10, Nadezhda Ilyina, Russia,

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