Tom Fleming has always started fast. In 1979 he had Bill Rodgers by nearly a minute at 10 miles in the Boston Marathon. He came in fourth. Twice he has finished second in Boston, but always his attack was the same: as hard as he could go for as long as he lasted. "You can criticize me for no finesse," he has said, "but that's just the way I am, a tough kid from Bloomfield, New Jersey. But one of these times I'll catch that perfect peak of a day, and when I blow away from the field there'll be no catching me."
That day finally came on Sunday in the $100,000 Jordache Los Angeles Pro-Am Marathon. Seizing an event that figured to be a curiosity, or at best a harbinger of the inevitable world of professional marathoning, Fleming left a solid field after a mile, took on a grueling course that led from the Hollywood Bowl to the Pacific—far hillier than that of any major marathon—and won by more than three minutes in 2:13:14.4. The victory was worth $25,000 to him, thought to be the largest purse ever awarded for a marathon, above or below the table.
Fleming did it without ever looking back, without any signs of distress. Indeed, he rolled down the fearsome last mile and a half, a descent of 500 feet, to the shore beneath Pacific Palisades—"a nail-ripper of a hill," one runner called it—with his arms outstretched like a" soaring bird, in relaxation, in glee, in control. "I couldn't believe how easy it was," he said later. "Even on the most wicked hills, like the one beside UCLA, my breathing never went hairy, my stomach never grabbed, my legs stayed light. It was scary. Things aren't supposed to be that way in a killer marathon."
Things were not quite so transcendental for Cindy Dalrymple or Doreen Ennis-Schwarz because they found themselves in a pitched battle for the women's prize. Ennis-Schwarz runs up on the balls of her feet and, thus, gets severe blisters in long races. But she immediately took the lead along with Gayle Olinekova. If that name seems vaguely familiar, it's because it used to be Gayle Olinek, 12th fastest female marathoner ever, at 2:35:12, and possessor, as an SI headline (Jan. 5) put it, of the "greatest legs to ever stride the earth." She has had it lengthened—the name not the stride—to the full Ukrainian version of her grandparents.
At 10 miles, Dalrymple trailed the leaders by 150 yards. She won the 1977 Honolulu Marathon, but she's now 39, divorced, has two children and, until four months ago, had never had the luxury of being able to train without the drain of a full-time job. She worked as a 911 Police Emergency operator in Seattle before returning to her beloved Honolulu last November. That same month she entered and won the second pro race staged by Jordache, in Pasadena, and took home $12,500. Everything changed. "Now I can eat and sleep and train," she says. "It's exactly what I've wanted to do all my life."
After 11 miles, Olinekova dropped back with a severe nerve inflammation in her left foot. She wouldn't finish. Dalrymple sensed she was gradually closing on Ennis-Schwarz. "I seemed to be gaining on the uphills. Now I'm not at all fond of hills, but when I saw that, I kept saying, 'I hope there's another hill, and another...."
Ennis-Schwarz was game. "But at 17," she said, "my blisters started breaking. It was hard from then on."
Dalrymple caught Ennis-Schwarz at 22 miles, not far from the house President Reagan has for sale, and pounded down the last hill to win in a personal best of 2:39:55. Ennis-Schwarz, her shoes and socks bloody, was second in 2:40:57.
The race had begun at 8 a.m. on what would remain a cool, overcast Sunday and had passed through a still nodding cross-section of Los Angeles communities, from the streetwalkers near Sunset and Vine to the elegant desertion of Beverly Hills. There were none of New York's or Boston's cheering millions. "Sure, there was a long way between people," said Dalrymple. "But there was the money to think about. I kept recalling that $12,000 for second isn't bad, but $25,000 will go a lot further."
There was such a sense of Tightness to Dalrymple's good fortune and Fleming's pure virtuosity that it forced a closer look at this event. Was this, finally, a pro race good enough to begin a movement? Would this be the start of delivering road racers from the company of bootleggers and numbers runners and others who take their pay on the sly?