Juma Ikangaa, whose legs seem to account for most of the 5'3" that separate the top of his head from the soles of his feet, looked awesomely relaxed as he whirred across the Pulaski Bridge midway through Sunday's New York City Marathon. The air was cool (52�), the skies were overcast, and it seemed the tiny Tanzanian was bent on taking advantage of those perfect conditions. The only sign that he was clipping along at 4:51 per mile was in his cheeks, which trembled slightly with every stride.
At that pace Ikangaa should not have had much company. But he did. Hanging on for dear life were a dozen runners, the remnants of one of the best marathon fields ever assembled. At the start it had included Gelindo Bordin of Italy, the 1988 Olympic marathon champion, and Belayneh Densimo of Ethiopia, whose 2:06:50 in Rotterdam last year was the fastest marathon ever run. Densimo was still in the pack that was struggling to keep up with Ikangaa, and so was Steve Jones of Wales, last year's winner, but Bordin had fallen some 200 yards behind.
Ikangaa was growing impatient. "I don't like the little surging," he would say later in his measured, precise English. "Surge and stop, surge and stop. That can cause muscle cramps. It is better for someone to surge completely."
That someone turned out to be Jones. When Jones surged down off the bridge, Ikangaa went with him. And when Jones relaxed, Ikangaa pushed on. He covered that mile, the 14th, in 4:34, which pulled him 50 yards clear of Jones and Ken Martin of Santa Fe, N.M. "It was such a dramatic surge, and he was gone so quick," said Martin. "I thought. He's not going to keep it up. He can't."
Sweetly solemn and disarmingly direct, the 32-year-old Ikangaa is full of surprises. It is not unusual for him to turn an interview around 180 degrees. "Why do you ask that?" he will inquire with genuine interest. At a press conference two days before the race, Ikangaa was asked if he thought he would break the course record. "I am mentally fit and technically fit to run on Sunday," he said. "Afterwards, we will know if I have broken the course record."
Ikangaa paused. "What is the course record?"
Until Sunday that was a surprisingly tricky question. Race officials have retained Alberto Salazar's 1981 mark (2:08:13) as the record even though the course Salazar ran was later found to be 120 yards short. But, thankfully, this year's race provided an answer to that and a number of other questions. Some of them were mundane: By how much would Norway's Ingrid Kristiansen win the women's race? Others were more intriguing: Would an American ever go under 2:10 again? In 1988 alone that barrier was broken by three runners from Ethiopia, and two each from Italy, Kenya and Tanzania. No U.S. marathoner had broken 2:10 since Salazar ran 2:09:21 in 1983.
The Kristiansen question was answered quickly. She passed the half-marathon point in 1:09:59 with a lead of almost two minutes, and through 16 miles she was still on pace to break her own world best of 2:21:06. But Kristiansen drank too quickly at a water station and got cramps. "It felt like I was running half an hour after a big meal," she said.
Yet so complete was Kristiansen's dominance that it would have taken a truckload of cakes and pies to make her truly vulnerable. She hit the tape in 2:25:30, missing Allison Roe's eight-year-old course record by one tantalizing second. Kristiansen had to be content with the $26,385 winner's purse and a Mercedes. The $10,000 bonus she would have won for breaking Roe's record went unclaimed, even though Roe's record was set on the same short course as Salazar's.
The great surprise of the women's race was the second-place finish by Kim Jones, a 31-year-old mother of two from Spokane. Jones, who broke 2:30 for the first time while finishing third in Boston this April, was proving herself audacious simply by running in New York; she had won the Twin Cities Marathon in 2:31:42 only four weeks earlier. Jones reached the finish in 2:27:54 to become the fourth-fastest U.S. woman ever.