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Lebow Will Be Big Part of Silver Marathon : Running: Organizer would have wanted today's 25th edition of New York City race to be won by an American.

November 06, 1994|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — At the corner of 67th Street and West Drive, at the end of a corridor of portable grandstands and under a street light in Central Park, a statue was unveiled Friday.

Fred Lebow didn't live to see the 25th running of his race, the New York City Marathon, but his tribute in bronze--a bearded man in billed cap, peering down at a watch on his left wrist--looks out over the finish line.

Before the first pigeon can call the statue home, Lebow's fondest wish could be granted--with the help of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Lebow wanted to see another American winner in New York. None has won here since Alberto Salazar in 1982. No American woman has won since Miki Gorman in 1977.

As two of the United States' newest citizens, Olga Appell and Arturo Barrios might get a bigger charge out of the Statue of Liberty than one of Fred Lebow. But as two of the United States' leading marathon runners, the lures are more likely Grover Cleveland, Salmon P. Chase and Woodrow Wilson--the faces on $1,000, $10,000 and $100,000 bills.

When Appell and Barrios raised their hands and swore allegiance to the United States, they vowed to protect and defend their rights to double their prize money if they finish in the top five in their divisions today, and to collect a $100,000 bonus if they win as Americans.

"You could be talking about a $200,000 day, with interval-record money," said Brian Appell, Olga's husband and coach.

As the top returning finishers from a year ago, and training at their peaks, Appell and Barrios are among the top contenders. The forecast, for a warm and humid day, heightens their chances.

"The hotter the better," said Appell, a 31-year-old mother of two who became a U.S. citizen on Feb. 25, shortly before winning the Los Angeles Marathon in 2 hours 28 minutes 12 seconds.

Now, she doesn't have to ask Mexico's track federation if she can run. She doesn't have to send a portion of her winnings to Mexico. Like many immigrants, she came to America for freedom--in her case, freedom to run wherever she wants, whenever she wants.

"I didn't have the stress they put on me," she said. "I could be more flexible, run where I want. I didn't have to worry about their criticism because I am a Mexican runner with an American coach. I'm proud of what I did."

She tuned up for this race, which she calls her most important, by winning the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan in 2:36 without pushing herself, and by finishing second in Chula Vista, running 10 kilometers in 31:46.

Appell was 32 seconds behind Germany's Uta Pippig last year in New York. Pippig added a Boston Marathon victory to her sensational year and has signed a contract with Reebok worth a reported $250,000, with bonuses for top performances in big races. It begins on Nov. 15, which explains her absence here.

Instead, Appell will deal with Kim Jones of Spokane, Wash., who was second here in 1989 and has run the fastest time of any American woman at New York, 2:28:54. She dropped out at 17 miles last year because of an asthma attack, but has been taking drugs to control the disease and declares herself ready.

Anne Marie Letko, who grew up in New York and lives in Marietta, Ga., is the hometown favorite and is using the race to prove she can run a marathon after dropping out at 19 miles last year.

The group of foreign women includes Nadia Prasad of France, who won the Chula Vista 10K, beating Appell by eight seconds and knocking 19 seconds off Pippig's course mark.

Barrios, who became a U.S. citizen on Sept. 16 after a dispute of his own with the Mexican federation, won the U.S. 10,000-meter championship.

He finished third last year in New York in 2:12:21, 2:17 behind winner Andres Espinosa of Mexico and 1:18 behind Bob Kempainen of Minnesota. Espinosa is passing up this race for Japanese money to run a marathon in December. Kempainen is not running here.

That leaves Barrios, whose fifth-place finish in Boston was almost four minutes faster than in New York.

His main competition will probably be South Africa's Willie Mtolo, who celebrated the lifting of the international ban against his country by winning the 1992 New York Marathon.

Vincent Rousseau of Belgium ran a 2:07:51 in winning at Rotterdam, but that was not in the heat and humidity he might face today. They are conditions he detests, so much so that he said Friday he would not run in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

German Silva of Mexico calls himself the favorite, in his second marathon. His first was a 2:09:18, which was good for third in Rotterdam. Salvador Garcia, also of Mexico, beat Espinosa in winning here in 1991 and returns today.

Kenya is represented by Michael Kapkiai, Sammy Lelei and Josphat Ndeti, brother of two-time Boston winner Cosmas.

They will join 27,000 runners on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge this morning.

Five boroughs, 26 miles and 385 yards later, the winner will be greeted by Central Park's newest statue, whose subject, Fred Lebow, would consider it his greatest tribute if the first runner there is an American.

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