Boston Marathon : Kristiansen, 0-2 vs. Samuelson, Tries Again Today to Beat Rival

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Joan Benoit Samuelson and Ingrid Kristiansen are two women whose running careers have intersected at crucial junctures. It has happened in the marathon twice--the 1984 Olympics and the 1985 Chicago Marathon. Both times Samuelson frustrated Kristiansen.

They will meet again today in the 93rd running of the Boston Marathon, and again it comes at a significant moment for both.

For Samuelson, her performance in this race will go a long way in determining her future in the sport. Should she have a disappointing race, Samuelson hints that she may quit and let years of nagging injuries heal.


For Kristiansen, the marathon world record holder at 2 hours 21 minutes 6 seconds, there seems little else to prove. However, as she is constantly reminded, she has never beaten Samuelson, whose grit and toughness have made near-legend in a sport where everyone is tough.

Samuelson considers Boston her second home and this week plenty of her “neighbors” were curious about her future. The most asked question of Samuelson was, remarkably, “When are you planning to quit?”

“I love running,” Samuelson said. “It has been part of my life for the last decade and even beyond. I guess I will say the frustration of the lingering chronic injuries has been a concern.

“I’ve asked myself, ‘What do you think would happen if you just divorced yourself from the running scene for three years and let (the) body’s natural healing process take over.’ That’s still not out of the question. If for some reason this is a disappointing run for me, that’s the option I’ll take. I need to take a long break and not test myself. Let the body heal. If the three years pass and if I’m still hungry, I’ll come back.”

Samuelson has run only one marathon since 1985, last year in New York where she was third (2:32:40). She has suffered with a series of lingering and chronic injuries and had knee surgery Feb. 8.

“I think marathons are 80% mental and 20% physical,” she said. “That 80% has to be finely tuned and the 20% has to be there. I’ve had some problems in my long runs, but I’ve been able to run out of them.


“It’s some sort of a dysfunction with the hip or the back that causes me to lose my stride and falter a little bit. It seems on the runs I do alone it gets the best of me. But when I’m running with someone who is one step ahead of me, I can run out of it within time.”

That may be an insight into Samuelson’s competitiveness, which should never be overlooked. In the races in which she has been physically fit, Samuleson has been in total control.

She ran a bit with a pack at the start of the Olympic race in 1984, then roared off when the pace lagged. No one dared go with her and Samuelson won, saying it was surprisingly easy. Kristiansen was fourth, still at a stage in her career in which she was overshadowed by fellow Norwegian Grete Waitz.

In Chicago, Samuelson and Kristiansen ran together for 19 miles and then Samuelson began a campaign of surging and falling back, which totally befuddled Kristiansen. Samuelson won in an American record of 2:21:21, a record that still stands.

But those were times before injuries and priorities settled into Samuelson’s life. That is why if she can’t spin her magic around Kristiansen today, she might not run again for some time.

“I’m not coming in here pretending I’m a perfect specimen or in good physical health,” she said. “But I’m coming in with a big heart and a lot of physical work. I haven’t had the races to back me up, but I’ve run some encouraging long runs. As fast as they were back in 1983. I am banking on that fact and I have to put my confidence in my training.”

What will her training tell her if Kristiansen attempts, as she indicated she might, to run a sub-2:20, the current goal for women. The heart may be willing but the 20% may not hold up.

“I will be aggressive if it’s there for me,” she said. “If it’s not, I will assume that Ingrid is being very aggressive and she’s going after the 2:20. I will be very careful to watch (other runners). . . . I think there will be a chance that somebody will falter along the line.

“All I know is that I’m coming into Boston having run some of the longest, hardest runs I’ve ever run.”

For the first time in a long time, Kristiansen has spoken more openly about beating Samuelson. Perhaps the mystique has faded.

“Ingrid has every right to think she can beat me,” Samuelson said. “She certainly can on paper. You put down a list of credentials over the last three years, there’s a lot there (for her). Not only one record but records being broken and rebroken.

“You look at my list of accomplishments over the last three years and there’s not much there. I’m in awe of what she’s done.”

In January, the Kristiansen family, which includes husband Arve and son Gaute, moved to Boulder, Colo., where Arve is attending business school. Ingrid trains two times a week at altitude with England’s Priscilla Welch, who is also racing today.

As late as a month ago, Kristiansen was running shorter races and having difficulty adjusting to coming down from altitude. But she has learned.

“It’s easy to come down from altitude for the marathon because it’s slower. You don’t need that leg speed,” she said. “I’ve got my treadmill. It’s very important to me to have my treadmill. If I do some work on the treadmill, I know how fit I am. I did just the same on the treadmill in Boulder as I did two years ago, and this was in high altitude. So I know I am in really good shape.

“I think I am 10-15% harder without knowing it. My coach knows almost nobody who can train as hard as I do at altitude.”

Seemingly, Kristiansen’s career has taken off just as Samuelson’s has stalled. There has been only one injury of note for Kristiansen, and it came at exactly the wrong time. Kristiansen passed up the marathon to run the 10,000 meters at the Seoul Olympics.

In the final, Kristiansen limped off the track and was taken out of the stadium on a stretcher. She had a broken bone in the middle of the arch of right foot.

“It’s always disappointing when you have to go out of a race,” she said. “These things happen.”

Kristiansen is certainly the race favorite, but is getting the pointed questions regarding Samuelson’s mastery over her. Also, there is the added element that the two giants of the sport have met infrequently.

“It’s the same with Grete Waitz because we are never meeting each other in a marathon,” Kristiansen said. “If all the best were all here, we could see who is the best.

“This time I just do my own race and I don’t care about the others. If the weather is nice and I feel great, for sure, I will go for a course record.”

The men’s race figures to be fairly wide open because Steve Jones had to withdraw last week because of Achilles tendinitis. At least five runners have a chance to win. They include:

Ibrahim Hussein of Kenya, last year’s winner here; Takeyuki Nakayama, who has a best of 2:08:15 and was fourth at Seoul; Abebe Mekonnen of Ethiopia, who ran 2:07.35, the fifth fastest time ever, in winning the Beijing Marathon last year, John Tracey of Ireland, third in last year’s New York Marathon, and Juma Ikangaa of Tanzania, who was seventh in Seoul and is good on hills.


Facts and figures of today’s 93rd running of the Boston Marathon:

Starting time--9 a.m., PDT (open and Masters divisions); 8:45 a.m. PDT (wheelchair division).

1988 Men’s Winner--Ibrahim Hussein, Kenya.

1988 Women’s Winner--Rosa Mota, Portugal.

Marathon World Best (Men)--2 hours, 6 minutes, 50 seconds, Belayneh Dinsamo, Ethiopia, 1988.

Marathon World Best (Women)--2:21:06, Ingrid Kristiansen, Norway, 1985.

Boston Marathon Best (Men)--2:07:51, Rob de Castella, Australia, 1986.

Boston Marathon Best (Women)--2:22:43, Joan Benoit Samuelson, United States, 1983.