Last Thursday, on her first morning in New York City, Britain's Paula Radcliffe took to the path around the reservoir in Central Park and ran its 1.6 miles three times. With water on her left and trees on her right, she lost herself in the scenery and found a new sense of purpose. "It's a wonderful place to run," said Radcliffe, the world-record holder in the marathon, who blended in among recreational joggers. "It's quite beautiful, and I needed to rediscover the joy of running."
On Sunday, Radcliffe rediscovered something else: the joy of winning. She edged past Kenya's Susan Chepkemei in the last 500 meters and took the New York City Marathon by four seconds, in 2:23:10. (South Africa's Hendrik Ramaala won the men's race in 2:09:28.) Radcliffe's time was well off the world best of 2:15:25 that she ran in London last year, but this was a race of redemption, not records.
Radcliffe entered the Olympics in August having won each of the three marathons she had finished. But in Athens she pulled out at the 23-mile mark, sobbing, her energy depleted because, she said, of anti-inflammatory tablets she had taken to treat a hematoma in her left leg. Later that week she also failed to finish the Olympic 10,000 meters. "Athens was a disaster," says the 30-year-old Radcliffe. "I'd never had a failure of that magnitude before."
Soon after the Games she retreated to Flagstaff, Ariz., partly to escape the British press, which had hounded her over her failure to win medals at the Olympics and the outdoor world championships. On Sept. 12 Radcliffe received an e-mail from Mary Wittenberg, COO of the New York Road Runners Club, inviting her and Gary Lough, her husband and coach, to attend the marathon as guests of the club. Wittenberg wanted to woo Radcliffe to run New York in 2005. Radcliffe, however, couldn't wait that long. "I'm somewhat keen to run New York this year," she told Wittenberg in an e-mail reply on Oct. 18. "Might you possibly have a place for me?"
Her late addition to the field on Oct. 26 didn't sit well with all her competitors. Lornah Kiplagat, a native Kenyan who competes for the Netherlands, called Radcliffe's decision "selfish," claiming that her inclusion might force other runners to change their race strategies and make the $100,000 winner's prize less attainable for some long after they had committed to enter the race.
Such objections almost became moot on Saturday night, when Radcliffe suffered indigestion and slept poorly. The next day, however, she was too strong for the field. At 21 miles Kiplagat fell off the pace, leaving only Chepkemei and Radcliffe, who was still suffering from stomach cramps. Even at her best Radcliffe never seems comfortable. Her head bobs as if she had a fly on her nose and a kink in her neck. For five miles she and Chepkemei were never more than a few feet apart. Finally, on Central Park South, Radcliffe used her track speed to pull away, and she extended her lead up the final hill inside the park.
"It's an ironic benefit that my face should hint to my competitors that things are always going badly," said Radcliffe, citing her most peculiar advantage in races, "because they never know when I'm feeling that things might actually be right agai
We're Number 2
Not since Alberto Salazar's second victory, in 1982, has a U.S. man or woman won the New York City Marathon. Five U.S. runners have finished second, including Meb Keflezighi (right), the 2004 Olympic silver medalist. Below are the Americans who fell a bit short.
Juma Ikangaa, Tanzania
Ingrid Kristiansen, Norway
Wanda Panfil, Poland
Andrés Espinosa, Mexico
Hendrik Ramaala, S. Africa