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It's been a record wait

Kristiansen says 2:20 overdue

By Allen Lessels, Globe Staff, 04/14/99

The highlights are numerous.

There were the dominating Boston wins in 1986 and 1989. There were the four wins in the London Marathon. There was the course record in the Houston Marathon. There was the stretch when she became the only person to simultaneously hold world records at 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters, and the marathon.

In those mid-1980s days, the magic time of 2:20 for the marathon seemed well within the reach of Norway's Ingrid Kristiansen. Besides Kristiansen, Grete Waitz, also of Norway, and Joan Benoit Samuelson of Freeport, Maine, were doing their share to push the numbers.

Kristiansen put up a time of 2 hours 21 minutes 6 seconds in the London Marathon in 1985, breaking Samuelson's two-year-old record of 2:22:43. The race for 2:20 was on.

At the time, Kristiansen said someone was going to break the 2:20 barrier - probably running closer to 2:18 - and it might as well be her.

That was then.

As it turned out, Kristiansen took a couple of runs at 2:20, but never quite pulled it off.

Neither has anyone else. Kristiansen's 2:21:06 in London is still considered the women's record because most feel the 2:20:47 that Kenyan Tegla Loroupe posted last year at Rotterdam was not a valid record because she received too much assistance during the race.

Still, Kristiansen remains surprised no one has cracked 2:20.

''Very surprised,'' she said this week from her home in Oslo. ''And I'm not sure why it has not been broken. I felt I could have done it twice. Once in London [1987] for sure. But I got cramps in my legs with 10 kilometers to go. I finished the race and won in 2:22 something, but it was so, so disappointing. With 8 kilometers to go, I was on pace for a 2:18 or 2:19.''

But it wasn't to be.

''For a marathon, you have to finish the whole race for your pace,'' she said. ''Nothing helps if you say you were good enough and did it half the way.''

Which, of course, takes not a thing away from what Kristiansen has accomplished.

Friday, she comes back to Boston to celebrate just one of those many highlights. She is one of the guests invited back in what has become a yearly ritual to honor former winners. She will be here and plans to run Monday on the 10th anniversary of her second Boston win.

What a win it was. Little drama, lots of domination.

At first, as usual, she thought of 2:20 or at least a shot at her world record, but Boston that day was too warm, pushing 70 degrees, and she settled for a win. She ran 2:24:33, 22 seconds faster than her winning Boston time in 1986 and more than four minutes faster than runner-up Marguerite Buist of New Zealand. Just as impressive, only 25 men beat her that day. Samuelson, fighting injuries, finished a gutsy ninth.

''If you don't think Ingrid is the world's best athlete, you're kidding yourselves,'' Samuelson said that day.

Kristiansen has been back to Boston twice since. The 100th running in 1996 was fun and she ran a 2:39 to finish second in the Masters division. She ran in 1991 and that was not nearly as much fun.

''I was going real good for halfway and then almost broke down,'' she said. ''I came in fifth place or something [actually sixth in 2:29:51]. The course was tough and everything was tough. When you're used to winning the race, it's tough to come in fifth or sixth.''

By 1996, she had adjusted her approach.

''It's been so many years now since I really did push training,'' she said this week. ''Now I feel I'm turning 43 [which she did last month] and my time is over and a whole new generation of runners is coming. The first year or two was tough. I still felt OK, but as a runner I wasn't good enough. In 1996, that was nice. I went into the race just for fun. I was looking around, speaking to everyone and running because I like it. It's easy now. I put no pressure on myself and nobody else has any pressure on me. Then it's easy to compete.''

These days, said her husband Arve, their son Gaute, 15, is the runner in the family.

Gaute is the oldest of the Kristiansens' three children. Ingrid coaches with a local club and one of her runners is in the Rotterdam Marathon this weekend.

Still, she waits for someone to break 2:20.

''I thought Elana Meyer from South Africa could do it, but now I think maybe she is a better half marathoner,'' Kristiansen said. ''Of course, a lot of Japanese runners maybe could have done it but they're pushing too hard. And the Kenyans maybe are running too many races. To be a real good marathon runner you need some years to prepare. Young girls need some years, but I don't think Kenyan girls get all the years. They have too many races for a few years and then they are breaking down.''

In the meantime, she heads back to the site of a couple of her greatest triumphs, little concerned about race times.

''I'm a fun runner. I will be happy if I do a good race, of course, but it's not so important anymore,'' she said.

This story ran on page G01 of the Boston Globe on 04/14/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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