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History looms over Alberto Salazar. He's already in the books for good, of course, with his 2:08:13 marathon last October in New York, the first improvement of the world's best time in that event in 12 years. This he did in only his second attempt at the distance. That Salazar mildly predicted the time (and that of his first marathon, a winning 2:09:41 at New York in 1980) gives his performance a human appeal that assures its continuing to shine in our collective imagination long after his record is broken.
Because Salazar is only 23 and blessed with a superb coach, a rewarding place to train, a tough, helpful wife and the conviction that he has many years yet to improve, he will be the man to break his record. We have his word on it: "2:06, 2:05," he has said. "Before I finish I should be in that range."
But history holds Salazar in another way as well, in an embrace he has sometimes struggled against. In his running and in his larger character, he is the contemporary expression of traits that have been in his family for centuries, for millennia. Salazar's mother, Marta Galbis Rigol Salazar, can trace her name to the Roman General Galba, who conquered the Alicante region of Spain 1,900 years ago. In 68 A.D., after Nero's death, Galba was made Emperor, "but was killed after a few months," in the words of The Reader's Encyclopedia, "because he was unwilling to fulfill the expectations of his followers." It would not be the last death in this family traceable to an abundance of pride and will.
On his father's side, each of the 11 generations that preceded Alberto's produced individuals of exceptional talent and adherence to the right as they saw it. "God has been good to this family," José" Salazar has said. "Those generations kept the values of family and sacrifice and moral strength in times of corruption. The presence of those generations is a living force. I tell Alberto you can do what you want, but he knows the irresistible way of our history."
To this, Alberto has said, "Come on, Dad."
Yet to know Salazar, and to then learn of his ancestors, is to be confounded by the mystery of reappearing character. A blue-covered book was given to Molly Morton and Alberto Salazar when they married last December. It is a privately printed history of the Garesché, Bauduy and des Chapelles families, which delineates Alberto's paternal forebears, by Dorothy Garesché Holland of St. Louis. It traces for five centuries how these three names mingled to form a great intermarried clan remarkable for military bravery, aiding and opposing revolution, colonizing Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic), subsequent dispossession by slave uprisings and a re-flowering in Wilmington, Del. and later in Cuba. Alberto Salazar was born in Havana on Aug. 7, 1958, in the midst of revolution. At the age of 2 he participated in his family's latest exodus, to Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Thus it's appropriate in a discussion of his life to include some paragraphs concerning these ancestors, not because Alberto has been particularly aware of them, but because he has not. The matter of predictions, for example, Dorothy Holland writes:
...on October 4, 1790, when Pierre Bauduy de Bellevue and Juliette Thérèse Jeanne Julienne le Bretton des Chapelles were married at her father's home in Léogane [Santo Domingo].... Among her [childhood] friends was Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie. One day Juliette, Josephine and a third girl whose name is not known, had their fortunes told by an old slave, Euphemia. The seer said that Josephine would be a queen and an empress; that the unnamed girl would be a princess and that Juliette would marry one of her own rank. Josephine, of course, eventually married Napoleon, and Juliette, Pierre. The other girl left Santo Domingo shortly after the fortune-telling incident and started for Europe with her parents. On the way their ship was seized by pirates and she was taken as a captive to Turkey. Here a Persian prince fell in love with her and made her his bride....
Alberto Salazar's family spent its first 10 years in the U.S. in Manchester, Conn. "The backyard was two hills down to a pond," says Marta. "Alberto and his two older brothers and his sister [Richard, now 27, who flies an F-14 from the carrier John F. Kennedy, José, 25, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts in marine biology; and Maria Cristina, 29, who runs a translation service in Miami. A younger brother, Fernando, is now 16] were running up and down those hills, playing constantly."
As a child Alberto was a perfectionist, never needing reminders to do his homework. At the earliest age he seems to have resented unwelcome intrusions and met them with rages. "He has always had the resistance to affront, the pridefulness in his character," says Marta. She recalls that when he was only 3, "before he could speak English, we were on vacation in Michigan, and we put him in a summer camp. The first day the teacher called and said, 'Come get your kid....' "