Adriana Fernandez after winning the 1999 New York City Marathon (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature New York, USA

Fernandez a marathon force of the future

When Mexico's Adriana Fernandez won Sunday's New York City marathon, running alone and against strong head winds for much of the race, she proved to herself and the world that she is a force to be reckoned with on the international marathon scene.

Her winning margin of nearly two and a half minutes under extreme conditions clearly demonstrated that her runner-up finishes in New York last year and London this year were not flukes but stepping stones to bigger and better things.

"She's certainly an A-class athlete, there's no question about that," said New York Marathon elite athlete co-ordinator Anne Roberts.

"Obviously, her performance yesterday proved that. She ran 2:25:05 under terrible conditions. The wind was awful, the worst I've ever seen, and it was very cold," added Roberts, who noted that Fernandez had shown remarkable improvements over the last couple of years.

Head winds of up to 20-30 mph (32-48 kph) and a 46-degree (8 C) start temperature destroyed many a runner's chances and slowed all.

"I believe, and many others agree, that the wind cost the athletes about two minutes," said Fernandez's agent Luis Felipe Posso. That assessment would put Fernandez's performance well below the 1992 women's record of 2:24:40 for New York's tough course.

It was her second-place finish on the same course last year that taught Fernandez, 28, that she could compete with the world's best.

"Every race I run, I learn something new," said Fernandez, who only began running as a teenager in Mexico City at her father's insistence that she become fit and lose a little weight.

She slowly realised she had the talent to go far but still continued her studies to become a lawyer. Fernandez completed a five-year programme in civil rights law after high school and graduating in 1994 before abandoning law in favour of a professional running career.

She won the 5,000 metres at the 1995 Pan American Games and was named winner of the 1996 Houston marathon when the first female finisher was disqualified. But it wasn't until April of that year, at the Mt. San Antonio College Relays in California, that Fernandez became fully aware of her distance-running potential.

Competing shortly after recovering from an injury, she won a 10,000-metre event in a personal and national record time of 31:53:36. "It opened my eyes," she says.

The major marathons Fernandez ran after that served as milestones in her career and provided revelations of self-awareness.

She learned the value of remaining mentally focused over an entire race when she led for much of the 1998 London marathon before falling to seventh.

Putting that lesson into practice, she slashed her own personal best and Mexico's national record with a 2:26:33 showing in New York last year. She lowered the mark again – to 2:24:06 - with her runner-up finish in London in April.

"In that race, I realised that I could run even faster," said Fernandez, who believes that the world mark of 2:20:43 is within her reach.

"She is strong and she is also still young," said her trainer, two-time New York marathon runner-up Rodolfo Gomez. "I believe she can do it."

Fernandez's London time easily qualified her for Mexico's Olympic team and she came to New York oozing confidence.

"She has the most confidence of any athlete I have ever worked with," said Posso, who also represents former men's world record-holder Ronaldo da Costa and Olympic champion Josia Thugwane.

After sticking close to early leader and 1998 champion Franca Fiacconi of Italy through the 14th mile (22.5 kms),

Fernandez took off and never looked back.

"I went out and stayed alongside the Italian, but I felt I was stronger," said Fernandez. "After 13 miles, I felt even stronger and I won the race there."

The lesson she takes away from this victory is that her self-confidence was well founded in reality.

"Now I know that if I have confidence in myself, I can accomplish the things I want," said Fernandez.

And what she wants is an Olympic gold medal.