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The Big Apple gets ready to run

The Big Apple gets ready to run
James Dunaway for IAAF

3 November 2000 - New York City - The New York City Marathon will celebrate its 30th birthday on Sunday, November 5. It has seen - and made - a lot of history as the first of the many "Big City" races which flourish today all over the world.

In 1970, 127 runners started and 55 finished on the hilly, 4-times-around-Central Park course. The entry fee was $1, and the entire race budget was less than $1,000. Road runners were considered eccentric, if not downright crazy. The local media totally ignored the race.

By 1975, the number of entrants had grown to 534, but it wasn't until 1976, when the race became a run through all five of the City's boroughs and over five bridges, that it really took off. Suddenly, there were more than 2,000 men and women running, and tens of thousands of spectators lining the course and cheering them on. The men's race was won by Bill Rodgers in a more-than-respectable 2:10:10.

Next year there were nearly 5,000 entrants. In 1979, the number was close to 10,000, and Grete Waitz of Norway set a women's world best of 2:32:30. Waitz went on to win nine New York City Marathons and further lower her world mark in two of them.

On Sunday, following almost the same course laid out in 1976 and slightly modified in 1977 and 1978, more than 30,000 runners and upwards of a million spectators will be part of what has become a civic festival - one during which normally brusque, impatient New Yorkers surprise out-of-town visitors and themselves by becoming friendly, gracious hosts. Runners from every U.S. state and 107 countries will be covered by more than 1,000 journalists from 45 countries. And unlike most old-time marathons, almost all those who start will finish (98% did last year).

First place will be worth $65,000 to both men's and women's winners, plus a new Pontiac automobile, a Vespa motor scooter and time bonuses which go as high as $65,000.

Sunday's race has strong fields in both the men's and women's races. Four men have run under 2:08: Japhet Kosgei, a 32-year-old Kenyan who didn't start running until his late 20s, won the 1999 Rotterdam Marathon in 2:07:09 and this year's Tokyo Marathon in 2:07:15; Josiah Thugwane, 29, the 1996 Olympic champion from South Africa, with a best of 2:07:28; 31-year-old Moroccan Abdelkader El Mouaziz, who won London in 1999 in 2:07:57 and has run 2:07:33; and Joseph Kahugu, a 29-year-old Kenyan who has run 2:07:59.

1999 winner Joseph Chebet withdrew this week with an injury. But John Kagwe, a Kenyan who lives and trains in nearby Philadelphia and won here in 1997 and 1998 is back, and reportedly in good form. Another two-time winner is Mexico's German Silva, who won in 1994 and 1995. In addition to these six, another 10 entrants have broken 2 hours 10 minutes.

The women's race doesn't have as much depth, but there is plenty of quality.

You start with Kenya's Tegla Loroupe, who set a world best of 2:20:43 winning at Berlin in 1999, and who has run more sub-2:23 marathons (4) than any other woman. Loroupe also won here in 1994 and 1995. Most recently,  Loroupe became ill just before the Olympic Marathon in Sydney and struggled in 13th. Amazingly, she managed to make it through the heats of the Olympic10,000 and finished fifth in the final.

1999 winner Adriana Fernandez of Mexico is also back for another bite of the apple. She barely missed the course record last year, as she ran alone and unchallenged for the last half of the race and won in 2:25:06. Her best of 2:24:06 is more than three minutes slower than Loroupe's, but she runs tough. Like Loroupe, she had a bad Olympic marathon, finishing 16th in 2:30:51.

Two other former winners are back. Tall, blonde Franca Fiacconi of Italy has finished in the top four for the past four years here, winning in 1998 in 2:25:17, still her best time. And Anuta Catuna (spell it backwards) won in 1996 and hopes her even-paced style can do it again.

Other likely high finishers include Kerryn McCann of Australia, 11th in Sydney six weeks ago; Margaret Okayo of Kenya, a 2:26:00 runner and winner of San Diego's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in June; Hellen Kimutai of Kenya, only 22 but winner of the Vienna City Marathon this year in 2:26:54; and China's Sun Yingjie (2:25:45) and Ai Dongmei (2:27:30).

The temperature expected for Sunday is close to ideal, with a predicted high of 12-13 Celsius (55 F), but a north wind might slow the runners. If the wind isn't too strong, the course records - 2:08:01 by Juma Ikangaa, 1989 and 2:24:40 by Lisa Ondieki in 1992 - could be in danger.