Pfitzinger Wary on Olympics


Published: May 28, 1984

On Friday night, nightmares kept interrupting Pete Pfitzinger's sleep. On Saturday, he surprisingly won the United States Olympic marathon trial for men. On Saturday night, he still could not sleep.

''I went to bed at 1:30 in the morning,'' Pfitzinger said yesterday by telephone from Buffalo. ''I woke up at 3:30, took a bath, read until 6 and took a 5-mile walk all over Buffalo. I'm going to sleep well tonight.''

That walk and a leisurely afternoon swim in Rochester, where his mother lives, constituted Pfitzinger's day- after exercise. He plans an easy five- mile run today. In a week, he will ease back into training with runs of 10 miles in the morning and 5 in the afternoon. A week after that, he will return to his regular schedule of 120 miles a week.

The trial, which began in Buffalo and finished in Niagara Falls, Ontario, qualified three men for the United States Olympic team. One was Alberto Salazar of Eugene, Ore., the favorite in the 26-mile-385-yard race. Pfitzinger and John Tuttle of Auburn, Ala., the other qualifiers, were long shots, especially Pfitzinger.

Took Lead at Midpoint

''I was surprised I won,'' said Pfitzinger, ''very surprised. I was hoping to make it, but so were 25 other people. I think only Alberto Salazar and Greg Meyer had better than 50-50 chances. Even when I was out in the lead, I was thinking about the pack behind me.''

Halfway through the race, Pfitzinger took the lead and built up a margin of 25 seconds, about 150 yards. The favorites let him go. Meyer, who finished eighth, said the favorites, he among them, were ''damn fools.''

''In retrospect, they were,'' said Pfitzinger. ''I guess the athletes in the pack didn't take me seriously. I made my move earlier than rational thought would dictate. If I had thought about it, I would have waited until 19 miles and made a bigger move.

''When I got to that little bridge 1.7 miles from the end, I thought I would make the team because three guys were not going to pass me. When I finished, I thought, 'I just won the marathon.' People said, 'You made the Olympic team.' I hadn't even thought about it until then.''

Pfitzinger is 26 years old, 5 feet 8 inches and 131 pounds. He has a mustache and a tight, light-brown beard. He was born in Camden, N.J., and grew up in Rochester. He has lived the last two years in West Newton, Mass., outside Boston. He has two degrees from Cornell - a bachelor's in economics and a master's in marketing.

His only college titles came in the Heptagonal Games - the 10,000 meters outdoors in 1977 and the 3 miles indoors in 1978. He also remembers the 1977 national collegiate cross-country race, in which he finished 96th.

Trained in New Zealand

Since then, his major victories have come in the 1981 National Sports Festival marathon in Syracuse and last year's San Francisco Marathon, which served as The Athletics Congress national championship. He spent the winter training in New Zealand.

Until Saturday, his fastest marathon was 2 hours 12 minutes 34 seconds last September when he finished second in Montreal. He lowered that to 2:11:43 on Saturday, an impressive time in the heat and headwind. Before the race, he said, he thought he could run 2:10, though he did not know if that would get him third place or eighth.

Now he must prepare for the Olympic marathon, part of the closing ceremonies Aug. 12 in Los Angeles. What he must do, he said, is try to run his best time and not think about the gold medal.

''If I run my best,'' he said, ''maybe I can win the bronze medal. The gold is beyond me at this point. Considering the difficulties others had from the headwind, my time indicates I could run 2:09. But I don't know about 2:09 in Los Angeles, because it should be hot and smoggy.''

After the trial, Duncan Macdonald of Kailua, Hawaii, an anesthesiologist who finished 11th, said the marathon ''was designed by perverts to be run by people with sick minds.'' When Pfitzinger heard that, he laughed.

''The marathon is grueling,'' he said, ''but success comes through preparation. You get ready for a marathon like you get ready for war. But if you're not prepared for the marathon, it takes a sick mind to run it.''