Athletics: Castro marches on New York

Simon Turnbull reports on a man for whom bread-winning is marathon- winning
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Castro has waited some time to lead the invasion of New York. Three years ago he failed by one minute and 28 seconds. Today, though, his time may finally come. On paper, Domingos Castro ought to be the man crowned the king of New York - of the New York City Matathon, that is. Of the contingent of 18,000 runners attracted from overseas, indeed of the entire 29,000 field entered for the annual race from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to Central Park, Castro is the quickest.

The time he clocked when winning in Rotterdam in April, 2hr 7min 51sec, put him top of the world marathon rankings until five weeks ago, when the Kenyans Elijah Lagat and Eric Kimayo ran 2:07:41 and 2:07:43 in Berlin (times subsequently bettered by the Moroccan Khalid Khannouchi with his 2:07:10 debut success in Chicago). Castro, though, at No 4 in the marathon world this year, and No 6 in the World Championship 10,000m final in Athens in August (the first European finisher) is enjoying a second coming as a major player on the global running stage.

The first was a decade ago. It was at the 1987 World Championships in Rome, in the wake of Ben Johnson's turbo-charged shattering of the human speed limit, that the power-packed frame of the diminutive Portuguese distance runner burst on to the scene. With his identical twin brother, Dionisio, behind him in eighth place, Castro gave Said Aouita more than a run for his shoe contract bonus money in taking the silver medal in the 5,000m final. A year later he went for gold again, but after giving chase to the runaway John Ngugi and being pipped by the fast-finishing Dieter Baumann and Hansjorg Kunze he finished the Olympic 5,000m final agonisingly medal-less. Castro was a picture of inconsolable dejection as he departed the Olympic Stadium track in Seoul and he has had little to cheer him since - until this year.

Victory in Rotterdam was the breakthrough he had craved since completing his first marathon, finishing fifth in New York in 1994. It was big news in Portugal; Rotterdam's was the course on which Carlos Lopes set the former world marathon mark, 2:07:12, the still-surviving European record, in 1985. Lopes, the Olympic 10,000m silver medallist in between Lasse Viren and Brendan Foster in 1976, failed to make it to Central Park in his marathon debut in New York in 1982. He was 37 when he struck Olympic gold in Los Angeles in 1984.

Castro will be 34 later this month and, like Lopes before him, he has been nurtured by the Sporting Clube de Portugal. He is a full-time runner in the athletics section of Sporting Lisbon, though he will not be parading through New York's five boroughs in the famous green and white hoops. He has a contract to promote Asics sportswear. "My family is poor," he said, speaking from his Manhattan hotel. "They need all the money Dionisio and myself can earn through our running. I have two sons and eight brothers. Winning on Sunday would help, but it will not be easy."

Castro may be the fastest contender but the elite entry list also features Dionisio Ceron, three times triumphant in London, his fellow Mexican German Silva, the New York winner in 1994 and 1995, Kenya's recently crowned world half-marathon champion, Shem Kororia, and Stefano Baldini of Italy, runner-up in this year's London Marathon.

As the principal family bread-winner, though, Castro has his resolve strengthened by the prospect of landing the $50,000 first prize. There is also a $65,000 bonus for breaking 2hr 7min. The New York course, however, has never been renowned for producing fast times; with the notable exceptions of 1988, when Steve Jones won in 2:08:20, and in 1989, when Juma Ikaanga clocked 2:08:01. The last three miles, through Central Park, are particularly hilly and Castro has been preparing for them. "I would prefer to run on a flat course but New York is very important to me," he said. "I want to make a big impression." It was ever thus with the Castros.