Jones, 33, got his first marathon victory, in Chicago in 1984, in a then world-best 2:08:05. His reputation is that of an impetuous, impatient frontrunner, notorious for his suicidal pace. His second win in Chicago, in 1985, is regarded as one of the guttiest runs ever. It was also one of the most reckless. Whizzing by his paid early-race pacesetter after the first mile, Jones passed the halfway point in 1:01:42, well ahead of the record pace. He missed setting another world standard by one second.
Then his career hit the wall. He seemed to run out of luck—or common sense. He was on record pace again in the first half of the 1986 European Championships marathon in Stuttgart, West Germany, only to sputter home 20th in 2:22:12. When he didn't qualify for this year's British Olympic team, Jones decided to make some drastic changes. He quit the Royal Air Force, in which he had served for 14 years as a mechanic, training on his lunch breaks.
He went to New York after several weeks of altitude training in Boulder, Colo. "I consciously planned to run a cautious first half," he said. "I figured I'd test my strength in the second half. It's a measure of my restraint. I suppose."
The plan worked. At 14 miles he broke clear of a lead pack that included Gidamis Shahanga of Tanzania, who has a marathon best of 2:09:39, and Wodajo Bulti of Ethiopia, whose 2:08:44 in Rotterdam last spring was a record for a first marathon. "The two Africans surged ahead, then eased back, and I just kept going," Jones said afterward.
"He was just gone then," said John Treacy of Ireland, who would finish third in 2:13:18. Jones's closest pursuer, Salvatore Bettiol of Italy, seemed to be a borough behind. In fact, Jones finished 3:21 ahead of Bettiol.
But if the men's competition lacked drama, that was O.K., because the real showdown was supposed to come between Samuelson and Waitz. The two women had competed in the same marathon only once before—at the Los Angeles Olympics, when Samuelson got the gold and Waitz the silver.
Samuelson, 31, hadn't lost a marathon in seven years. But then she hadn't raced in one since 1985, having undergone foot surgery in late '85, given birth to a daughter, Abigail, in '87 and had back and hip ailments in '88.
Waitz, 35, also had been hurting. She suffered a stress fracture in her right foot last summer, which caused her to miss last year's New York race. In June she qualified for the Norwegian Olympic team by winning the Stockholm Marathon on an ailing right knee. Just six weeks before the marathon in Seoul, she had arthroscopic surgery to repair the injury. She phoned an old friend for some advice.
"Hello, Joan, this is Grete calling from Oslo."
"Hey, how are you doing?"