At 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 4, 25,000 runners on Staten Island's Verrazano-Narrows Bridge will surge forward in one huge wave to start the 21st running of the New York City Marathon. At the front of this human sea will be a lean Norwegian named Grete Waitz, who will go for her 10th victory in the 26.2-mile race, a feat never before achieved by one person in the same marathon.
''Grete has never come and been beaten. She dropped out once, but she's never been beaten in New York,'' says Kathrine Switzer, ABC Sports analyst and 1974 New York Marathon winner. She predicts Waitz's main competition will be 1990 London Marathon winner Wanda Panfil of Poland and last year's second- place New York finisher, American Kim Jones. Top billing in the men's field goes to Tanzanian army major Juma Ikangaa, who was last year's victor with a course record of 2 hours, 8 minutes, 1 second (4:51 per mile). Expected to go stride for stride with him is Kenyan Douglas Wakiihuri. ''It should be an interesting battle of wills,'' Switzer says. ''Wakiihuri trains in Japan and approaches running like a Samurai.'' Also expected to be in the running: American Ken Martin, who was last year's runner-up.
The distance combined with the fact that both the men's and women's races must be covered at the same time necessitates a platoon of cameras strategically positioned. In all, a crew of 110, including staff on bicycles and in the field, and 27 cameras (five on motorcycles and one in a helicopter) will cover the course. ABC sportscaster Jim McKay and former world-class runner Marty Liquori will be hosts of the broadcast. Switzer and ESPN track- and-field analyst Larry Rawson, in motorcycle sidecars equipped with cameras, will report from the course.
''If Grete can achieve number 10, she'll be transcending the athletic and going into the mystical,'' Switzer says. But perhaps the true magic of this event is being able to watch not only the world's best runners, but also the gutsy jogger next door, as they cross the finish line in Central Park.