Alberto Salazars' World Best Marathon, New York City Marathon, October 25, 1981-Thirty years, and three days, by Jeff Benjamin, note by Larry Eder

Alberto Salazar, photo by

As a junior and senior in college, my team (Santa Clara University) would be between the University of Oregon and the Washington State University (at Pullman) at the Pac-8/NCAA District Meet. I remember seeing Rudy Chapa, Bill McChesney, Alberto Salazar lining up, and on the other side, Henry Rono and I believe, Josh Kimeto. Rono started out real slow for him, one year, hitting five minutes for the first mile, then just churning through the crowded field on the Stanford golf course. The battles between Oregon and WSU were titanic.

The Stanford course was fantastic. The course was fast, with some good hills on the back of the course. There was, until about 1978 a bridge early on where I remember a team mate being just about impaled on one of the poles as runners just charged across the bridge.

As one would run the course, you could see and feel the fans running from one part of the course to another, and as we neared the last couple of miles, one could sense the battles upfront.

From my vantage point, about 3/4 of a mile from the leaders, I remember seeing Alberto Salazar and Henry Rono just flying over the last mile at Stanford, dust flying up and the fans cheering away. I just remember Alberto and Henry running faster than I ever imagined possible. It was as if each willed the other to run faster, faster and faster....

I hear from Henry Rono on facebook once in awhile, and Alberto Salazar,  I get to see on the circuit, both quite pointed about running's influence on their lives. Alberto Salazar does not seem to slow down, with the Nike Oregon Project and his travels with Mo Farah and Galen Rupp.


Jeff Benjamin wrote this piece on the anniversary of Alberto Salazar's World Best, in his second marathon, in October 1981. It was a golden time in marathoning. Not only did we have colorful and passionate runners like Salazar and Waitz, but we had colorful race directors such as Fred Lebow and Bob Bright. Jeff captured much of Albertos' bravado in predicting a world best, and then, delivering on it!

We hope you find it enjoyable....

Alberto Salazar's 1981 New York City Marathon Victory,
courtesy of New York Road Runners

30 yrs ago today--10/25/81--Salazar WB Marathon 2:08:13
By Jeff Benjamin
Hard to believe that in 1981, there was no internet connection available to countless billions of people. Instant news was hard to come by, except on AM (remember that?) radio. But thanks to WABC TV millions of people, especially the running/track fans, tuned in 30 years ago today to see if Alberto Salazar would do what he said he would. AND he did!!
In his first attempt at the NYC Marathon distance in 1980, the young University of Oregon XC and track star told the press how he would boldly win that race and go under 2 hours and 10 minutes. As ABC broadcaster Marty Liquori said, "The press and the running community were not accustomed to such bold statements", especially from a rookie! However, 2 hours 9 minutes and 41 seconds later, Salazar (ironically dubbed "The Rookie" as a young high schooler by Bill Rodgers' Greater Boston Track Club, who he trained with in high school) delivered as promised, defeating a world class field in the attempt as well.
Now, in 1981, the returning champion, announcing himself fitter than the previous year, vowed to set the World Best for the 26.2 mile distance which was held by Australias' Derek Clayton (2:08:34). As related to Olympian Kenny Moore for his article in Sports Illustrated, Alberto even told his nervous wife the morning of the race, "'Don't worry. It's going to turn out just as we've planned."
Boy, it sure did. With conditions of 50 degrees and little humidity, the race pack of 30 went through 5 miles in 24:15, then started to dwindle as Salazar, running for Athletics West, went through 10 miles in 49:05. Their 1/2 marathon split was 1:04:10. By 16 miles, Salazar threw in a 4:43 per mile pace over the next 3 miles. Only Mexican Joser Gomez was with him at the crucial 20 mile mark.

That didn't last long though, as Salazar ran hard over the last part of the race, clocking a 4:52 25th mile and a 4:58 last mile! Before an excited, hysterical crowd in Central Park (including TV announcers Marty Liquori,Jim McKay, and radio announcers Tony Reavis and Gloria Averbusch) where even Race Director Fred Lebow lost control and tried to run with him over the last few yards but was stopped by police and secutrity, Salazar shattered Clayton's mark by 21 seconds, vowing that he could have run faster if there was competition with him!
To the millions of television viewers, Alberto Salazar had promised a grand achievement and surely delivered! Women's winner Allison Roe also set a World Best that day for women, running 2:25:29, beating the previous record of Grete Waitz.

Yet, sadly, a few years later, in their so-called "expertise and wisdom" the governing bodies decided that the NY Marathon Course was not valid and found to be short by about 100 yards. But debate about the measurements, how they are performed and the validities of not only the New York Course, but other courses around America and the world continue to haunt our sport to this day (Even David Katz, one of the certifiers of the NY Course, who is known and respected for his marathon expertise worldwide, recently said on a forum in, "I was involved with the re-measurement (I have all of the paper work). There were some politics involved.")

Also, here is what Allison Roe said to Kenny Moore after her World Best ;  "The men running around me were wonderful," she said. "They called and cheered and wouldn't let me slow. I realized there was a chance, but my legs were tight. I felt I was going slower and slower." One wonders how that would play out today, in light of the recent IAAF ruling concerning women marathon records!

As far as this writer (and hopefully others) is concerned, Happy Anniversary to the World Bests performed on that wonderful day by Alberto and Allison in New York City 30 years ago!!! It is truly remembered as one of our sports' magical moments, measurements and rulings be darned!!--Strongest language I can write!

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