Pittsford Sutherland grad Pete Pfitzinger was one of the great American marathon runners at a time when interest in the sport was at its peak.
His dramatic victory in the qualifying trial for the 1984 Olympic team thrust him into the national spotlight. That race, held in Buffalo, featured several of the world's best runners. Alberto Salazar, the reigning world record holder, had never been beaten by an American in the marathon. Bill Rodgers had 22 marathon victories under his belt.
But the 26-year-old Pfitzinger knew he could run with the big guys. Just past the halfway mark, he took the lead, surging 40 yards ahead of the rest of the pack. The move stunned those veteran runners, and Pfitzinger later admitted he was surprised to find himself so far ahead of everyone else. "I wondered whether I would be the foolish guy who ran by himself for 12 miles only to be swallowed up," he said.
Sure enough, Salazar closed the gap and took the lead with about a mile left. But as the pair approached the finish line, Pfitzinger found his reserve. He wound up to a full sprint, passing Salazar just 40 yards from the finish line to win the race and qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. "I don't know where that last kick came from," Pfitzinger later told Sports Illustrated.
Pfitzinger finished 11th in the 1984 Olympic marathon in Los Angeles and 14th at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. He was the top American finisher both times.
Since the mid-1990s, Pfitzinger has lived in New Zealand with his wife Christine Hughes, who is also a former Olympic runner.
Each week, we recognize a great sports figure from the Rochester area. See the complete list and read more about their feats online, at RocDocs.com/RocJocks.
Several readers wrote in to nominate Pfitzinger, including Thomas Cole, Bernie Gardner and Doug Pierce.
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