BOSTON — When she heard the news from London, that Deena Drossin had finally, after 18 years, after it seemed the U.S. marathon record might never be broken when other sports records last for about a day, Jill Gaitenby said she yelled and got goose bumps.
"I thought," Gaitenby said, "that if Deena could do it, I could do it. And Marla could do it and lots of us could do it. This might seem to be exaggerating, but that day I compared it to Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile barrier. I think the floodgates will open."
It wasn't a flood Monday at the Boston Marathon, but it was more than a trickle.
Marla Runyan, who has inspired many by her determination to run at the national level even though she is legally blind, was a disappointed fifth. Milena Glusac, a 27-year-old who suffered through several stress fractures and chronic fatigue syndrome, is healthy now and was a happy eighth here, with Gaitenby one place behind.
It was the best showing by U.S. women here since 1993 and it came only 11 days after Drossin broke Joan Benoit Samuelson's U.S. marathon record that had stood since 1985. Drossin, who finished third in a race where England's Paula Radcliffe set a world record in 2 hours 15 minutes 25 seconds, finished in 2:21.16, five seconds faster than the previous record.
There are signs of life in U.S. marathon running. Just not from the men.
The best a U.S. man could do in America's most famous marathon was 10th. And that man was a 42-year-old high school cross-country coach from Albuquerque by way of Belgium -- "the Flemish part," -- said Eddy Hellebuyck, who was also the second-fastest master's division runner, "the part you've never heard of." Hellebuyck said it was "a little sad," that he was the best of America's males in this race. "I'm thinking during the race that this shouldn't be, that there must be someone else," Hellebuyck said. "There wasn't."
But the U.S. women, they had expectations and were even mad. Runyan had hoped to finish at least third and run in the 2:25 range. She finished in 2:30.28, done in by relatively hot weather (temperatures in the 70s for much of the race) and legs tired from training. Runyan ran a bit more than three minutes faster in her marathon debut last year in New York. "I wanted to improve," Runyan said. "You have days like this, though, and you learn from them. I've learned."
And Gaitenby, who was the best U.S. female finisher here a year ago, said she had hoped for a top-five finish and a better time. Yet all three U.S. women said that when they thought about it, this was a very good day for female U.S. marathoners.
"I could go through all the reasons why it's taken so long to break Joan's record," Gaitenby said. "You've heard them all. We don't train hard enough, we aren't interested in sticking to something so tough. There are a lot of other sports opportunities for women in this country. And they're all good excuses.
"What happened in London, though, and with Marla last year, finishing fourth at the New York marathon, that has sent a jolt of electricity through the country. We've got a new standard of excellence now. If you want to make a world or Olympic team, suddenly the standard is much higher, your goals are much different."
Glusac, who was part of the 2002 U.S. world cross-country team that won a silver medal, said she was proud of what she, Runyan and Gaitenby did Monday. And she expects it will spark other young runners.
"It's about expectations and meeting them," Glusac said. "Being part of the U.S. team last year showed me that the future of distance running in this country is really, really bright. American distance running is on a positive swing, finally. You look around and all of a sudden, wow, a lot of the best runners in the world are American."
Still, among the top 200 marathons run by women, there are only four U.S. times listed and three of those belong to Samuelson. Drossin's record ranks No. 14. Samuelson owns Nos. 16, 35 and 107.
The American men? If Morocco's Khalid Khannouchi had not earned his U.S. citizenship three years ago, U.S. men would be missing from the top 200. Khannouchi has the world record of 2:05.38, set in London a year ago.
"The talent is here," Hellebuyck said. "I have a record number of runners on my high school team now, over 100."
Hellebuyck said it's a matter of salesmanship, of convincing teenagers who live in a country full of so many options, "that running a marathon can be rewarding on many levels," he said. "I am so proud to be representing this country. But I don't want to be the best. I'd like to coach the best someday."
That day isn't imminent. Runyan says that she knows there are talented young male marathoners coming up.
"I think they are getting inspired by what the women are doing," Runyan said. "I hope they are. Because we've got a pretty good thing started now."
The women do, that is.
Diane Pucin can be reached at email@example.com.
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