There should have been a great race in New York City's Central Park on Saturday. Lined up on Central Park West, beneath the rainbow arch of balloons at the start of the 17th L'eggs Mini Marathon, was, quite simply, the fastest field of women ever assembled for a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) road race.
Here were Mary Decker Slaney, 29, the American record holder at 10,000 meters and every other distance down to 800 meters; Joan Benoit Samuelson, 31, the 1984 Olympic marathon gold medalist; Lisa Martin, 28, of Australia, the 1987 L'eggs champion and the fourth-fastest woman ever in the marathon; Margaret Groos, 28, the winner of last month's U.S. Olympic Women's Marathon Trials; and 1985 L'eggs winner Francie Larrieu Smith, 35, who, in a career now older than the L'eggs race itself, has won 18 U.S. titles from 1,500 to 10,000 meters. "I don't think we'll find a race as good as this later in the season," said Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway, who then saw to it that the Mini Marathon wasn't much of a race at all.
At the moment, Kristiansen, 32, is the most versatile distance runner in the world. For almost two years she has held the world records at 5,000 and 10,000 meters and in the marathon, and is the only person—male or female—ever to hold all three simultaneously. On the track, the only place where an official world 10K record can be set, Kristiansen's 30:13.74 in Oslo's Bislett Stadium in 1986 gives her a humbling 43-second advantage over history's second-fastest woman, Olga Bondarenko of the Soviet Union. The Seoul Olympics will be the first to include a 10,000 for women, and Kristiansen, who last September pulled away to an early hundred-yard lead in winning that event at the World Championships in Rome, will pass up the marathon in favor of the shorter race.
Kristiansen had been home in Oslo preparing for the Olympics when she heard about the strong field for the L'eggs race, which attracted 8,260 entrants. She decided only on Monday to run in New York, craving the competition. This year she had had almost none. On March 20 she won the world road 15K title in Adelaide, Australia, by a whopping 1:54 and, six days later, in Auckland, New Zealand, took the world cross-country title by 19 seconds. At the London Marathon three weeks later, a tired Kristiansen slowed from world-best pace at 15 miles to 2:25:41 at the finish, but still won by 4:57. She went back to Oslo and enjoyed three weeks of rest, "having a nice time and eating a lot." In May she resumed training. She arrived in New York late Thursday night after a 16-hour trip that included a 4�-hour delay in Iceland. If she was weary, she didn't show it.
When the gun sounded, Kristiansen broke for the lead, with Slaney and Samuelson beside her. They would not have her company for long. By the time she passed the first mile, in 4:54, Kristiansen was already 12 seconds ahead of the field. "Typically Ingrid," Samuelson noted later. "But I really can't comment, because I didn't see her after we made the turn into the park."
By two miles (9:57), Kristiansen had built her lead to 20 seconds, and her main concern was the hazards, both human and mechanical, around which she occasionally had to swerve. "There are always cars and bicycles worrying you," she said. "And one of the press trucks was making a lot of pollution. It wasn't nice. Then the truck went back to see the others, and I thought. This is nice."
Kristiansen passed the halfway mark in 15:30 and then ran as she pleased over the last part of the course. She literally jumped across the finish line and into the arms of Leif Monsen, her manager. Apart from two times recorded by her countrywoman Grete Waitz, in 1979 and '80, on what is now considered to have been a short course—the standards for course measurement have been changed since then—Kristiansen's 31:31 was the fastest ever in the L'eggs race. "With so little speed training and only three weeks of running after the London Marathon," she summed up, "I am pleased with my time and performance."
Those distant others, the closest of whom trailed Kristiansen by some 37 seconds at the four-mile mark, were Slaney, Larrieu Smith, Martin and Anne Audain of New Zealand, the 1983 L'eggs winner. Samuelson, who had shared the lead with Kristiansen ever so briefly at the start, had slipped back through the pack. She would finish seventh in 33:05. On Thursday, Samuelson had given 32:30 as the time she would have to run if she were to continue pursuing an Olympic berth in the 10,000. After the race she was encouraged nonetheless. "Though I didn't feel particularly fast, I did feel strong," she said.
Samuelson missed the marathon trials last month because of a back injury that was partly the result of returning too soon after the birth of her daughter, Abby, last fall. At the time, she said she might try instead to qualify for the U.S. team in the 10,000. She will now look for a 10K on the track in hopes of running a fast enough time (she needs a 33:54 to make the trials next month). "Perhaps I will find myself in Indianapolis [site of the U.S. trials] in July," she mused.
The race for second was still undecided with about two miles to go. To take second, Martin would have to shake track specialists Slaney and Larrieu Smith before the final mile. Despite an early career as a 400-meter hurdler, Martin is now most definitely a marathoner. She knew that she shouldn't leave things to the last minute, when raw speed is at a premium. Martin had spent most of last summer in Belgium training for the worlds and had worked harder than ever before, but she lost contact with eventual winner Rosa Mota of Portugal early in the Rome race and dropped out just past 16 miles.