BOSTON — The marathon is track and field's most theatrical event, unfolding slowly over 26.2 miles, and Monday it provided drama of the highest order during the 95th Boston Marathon.
The women's race, won by Wanda Panfil of Poland in an excellent time of 2 hours 24 minutes 18 seconds, offered up the redemption of Joan Benoit Samuelson; the comeuppance of the world record-holder, Ingrid Kristiansen, and the coronation of the next American marathon star, Kim Jones.
The men's race also had plot tension: Would the race favorite fulfill his promise, would the pace be as reckless as last year's, and would one of the Africans, who had been prominent but not won, finally win here.
An African did win, for only the second time since 1897, but not the one expected.
Ibrahim Hussein of Kenya set a leisurely pace and prevailed after several challenges to win in 2:11:06. Abebe Mekonnen of Ethiopia was second in 2:11:22 and unheralded Andy Ronan of Providence College and Ireland was third in 2:11:27.
Mekonnen tried to stay with the strong prerace favorite, Douglas Wakiihuri of Kenya. But Wakiihuri remained in the group behind the lead pack and eventually finished sixth in 2:13:30.
Said Mekonnen's interpreter: "He didn't go with the first group because he thought that Wakiihuri was in good shape.
"He (Mekonnen) blames himself."
The leisurely pace might have been a reaction to last year's quick pace that took a toll on many runners, Hussein said.
"I was ready to go faster," he added. "I was praying for somebody to come and run with me to push the pace."
The pace of the women's race was serious from the start and produced six times under 2:30, a time considered the world-class benchmark.
But the race had something more. After the birth of her second child and a series of back and leg injuries, Samuelson, 33, the 1984 Olympic marathon gold medalist, was making a comeback.
This time, Samuelson had incentive. Inflamed by remarks that she was now a "mere housewife," Samuelson ran her fastest marathon since 1985. She was second for much of the race, was passed by Jones, of Spokane, Wash., with half a mile to go and by Uta Pippig of Germany 50 yards before the finish.
The top three women's finishers each had personal-best times. Jones was second in 2:26:40, Pippig was third in 2:26:52 and Samuelson, who still holds the American record of 2:21:21, was fourth in 2:26:54.
The women's race had none of the tactical drama that characterized the men's. Panfil, Samuelson and Ingrid Kristiansen ran well under world-record pace for the first 10 miles. After that, Kristiansen fell back, saying later that she had leg cramps.
Kristiansen dropped to third and Panfil and Samuelson ran side by side for the next five miles. Panfil made a break at 15 miles and left Samuelson well behind.
Panfil, 32, who is married to Mexican Olympian Mauricio Gonzalez, now lives in Mexico City. Her races are characterized by tremendous strength--she won three marathons last year and won the 10,000 meters at the Goodwill Games.
The crowds lining the course were clearly behind Samuelson, who set a world record on this difficult course in 1983. In Boston there is only "Joanie," a lifelong New Englander.
"Boston was the only thing on my mind," Samuelson said. "I had a lot of support out there, that meant so much to me. It meant a lot to me for people to stick with me through thick and thin."
Samuelson soundly beat Kristiansen. Kristiansen, 35, the world record-holder who hadn't run in a marathon in 1 1/2 years, was sixth in 2:29:24. It was her first loss in a marathon since 1985, when she was defeated by Samuelson at Chicago.
Kristiansen and Samuelson are friends, but their closeness was strained earlier this week after remarks Kristiansen made to the media. Discussing Samuelson's physical problems, Kristiansen summed up Samuelson's chances by saying that she does a nice job of running, considering she is a working mother of two.
It was an odd comment coming from a mother of two. Kristiansen gave birth to her second child in August.
Samuelson responded in her typically straightforward fashion, saying she "had trouble" with Kristiansen's remarks and would do her best to prove she was among the best in the world.
The race was a breakthrough for Jones, 32. Her time is the sixth fastest by an American woman, and she and Samuelson rank as the Nos. 1 and 2 fastest American women ever. Jones' passing of Samuelson with half a mile to run could have served as symbolism, the future passing the present.
Samuelson said she entered because she wanted to erase the memory of her ninth-place finish in 1989. At that post-race news conference, Samuelson was devastated and, choking back tears, said: "I am duly humbled."
This year, Samuelson cried again.
"They are different tears, " she said. "They are tears of joy, not of frustration."