As a competitor, Alberto Salazar pushed himself perhaps as hard as any runner who has stood on a starting line.
Following a stellar high school running career in Wayland, MA, Salazar ran for the University of Oregon and won the individual NCAA cross country championship in 1978. He made the 1980 U.S. Olympic 10,000-meter team but was stymied by the United States’ Moscow boycott.
At age 22, Salazar entered the 1980 New York City Marathon—his first—and predicted a time under 2:10:00. Experts were skeptical: Only a handful of men had ever run that fast, and never in New York. Salazar won the race in 2:09:41, breaking Bill Rodgers’ course record.
The next year, after smashing American records for 5000 meters indoors at New York’s Millrose Games and for 8K on the road (his 22:04 has stood for 33 years), Salazar returned to the New York City Marathon to challenge Derek Clayton’s 12-year-old world record of 2:08:34. He won by a half-mile in 2:08:13. (Although the course was later found to be slightly short, it met the accuracy standards of the time.)
Only six months later, Salazar claimed the Boston Marathon course record as well—but in a much closer race. On a cloudless 80-degree afternoon, he waged a fierce battle with Minnesotan Dick Beardsley that was decided only in the final yards, with Salazar ahead by two seconds, 2:08:52 to 2:08:54. Near-incredibly, during the next three months Salazar broke the American track records for 10,000 meters (27:25.61 in June) and 5000 meters (13:11.93 in July).
Salazar’s fourth marathon, the 1982 New York race, was another mano-á-mano struggle. With a half-mile remaining, he and Mexico’s Rodolfo Gomez were deadlocked in the lead. After a vehicle raised a dust cloud in their path, Salazar emerged with a slight edge, which he held for his third straight New York victory and his fourth win in four marathons. Track & Field News magazine ranked him the world’s #1 marathoner. He was 24.
After a disappointing 15th-place finish in the 1984 Olympic Marathon, Salazar began to experience frequent fatigue and illness, which eventually curtailed his racing career. (He believes that his unrelenting training volume and intensity weakened his immune system.) Aside from a remarkable comeback at the prestigious 56-mile Comrades ultramarathon in South Africa, which he won against all odds in 1994, he has not run competitively since the 1980s.
American Road Records