Some mistakes are impossible to live down. Just ask Germán Silva, a decorated Mexican distance runner and renowned humanitarian who will forever be known for a mishap that occurred at the 25.5-mile mark of the 1994 New York City Marathon. It was there that Silva, the race’s co-leader, took a wrong turn and followed the lead vehicle headed into Central Park at Seventh Avenue instead of at Columbus Circle. That error opened up a window of opportunity for his training partner, Benjamin Paredes, with whom he’d been racing neck and neck.
Amazingly, after realizing his mistake, Silva made up the 12 or 13 seconds it cost him and overtook Paredes in the final stretch, winning the race by two seconds. “Wrong Way Silva,” as he became known, used his race earnings and newfound fame to bring electricity to his village, and the following year, he again won the New York City Marathon, this time in less dramatic fashion.
Going the Distance(s)
Born January 9, 1968, in Zacatlan, Puebla, Silva grew up one of 13 children in Tecomate, a village in the Mexican state of Veracruz. As a boy, he logged five miles a day running to and from school, and while his father wanted him to work in the family’s orange grove, Silva opted for athletics. It turned out to be the right decision.
While Silva is most famous for his back-to-back wins at the New York City Marathon, he also achieved great success in the 10,000 meters and the half-marathon. He represented Mexico in the 10,000 meters at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and took sixth—the same place he achieved four years later, when he competed in the marathon at the 1996 Atlanta Games. In 1994, Silva won a silver medal at the IAFF World Half-Marathon Championships in Oslo, running a personal best time of 1:00:28. His personal best in the marathon came four years later, in 1998, when he clocked 2:08:56 in Boston, finishing sixth.
Since retiring from professional running in 2001, Silva has turned his attention to coaching, working with elite athletes and serving as head coach of La Loma Altitude Training Center in San Luis Potosí. His philanthropic efforts have included distributing running shoes to children throughout Mexico and organizing events to encourage running in rural communities. In 2011, Silva won NYRR’s Abebe Bikila Award, which honors distance runners who’ve made major contributions to the sport, both on and off the course.
|1990||Central American and Caribbean Games 3000m Steeplechase||9:01.26|
|1992||Barcelona Olympic Games 10,000m||28:20.19|
|1994||IAAF World Half Marathon Championships||1:00:28|
|1994||New York City Marathon||2:11:21|
|1995||New York City Marathon||2:11:00|
|1996||Atlanta Olympic Games Marathon||2:14:29|