CHRISTINE McNamara will be a rare sight in Sunday's 26th Honolulu Marathon.
give the foreigners
run for the money
She is a genuine American contender in a major American marathon.
Yes, that's a rarity these days.
Seldom does an American woman manage to emerge victorious in any major footrace that also involves European, African and Asian women.
But McNamara has that chance.
There has not been an American woman winner in Honolulu since 1988 when Ohio's Cyndie Welte won in a slow 2:41:52. There's no question that Welte won only because eight-time winner Carla Beurskens of Holland did not show up that year.
A time in the 2-hour, 40-minute range won't do it for McNamara in this race.
The women's field in Sunday's Honolulu Marathon is once again foreign-dominated and it's possibly the most competitive ever.
None of the elite women women ranks in the top 10 of current world standings. But seven of them have personal best times at the 26.2-mile distance that are under 2 hours and 30 minutes. This does not include defending champion Svetlana Zakharova (formerly Vasilieva), who ran her best time here last year: 2:33:14.
THE 32-year-old McNamara, who is unsponsored, uninsured and too financially strapped to even think about purchasing a performance-enhancing drug, would really turn some heads if she threatened to break the foreign stranglehold here.
The University of Colorado graduate was the best American woman marathoner last year, having clocked 2:28:18 at the London Marathon.
But unlike many foreign athletes who run with her, she has no club, no corporate nor government support.
Having competed in the Chicago Marathon in October 1997, she didn't feel she had had enough recovery time to compete in the national championship in Houston in January. So, U.S.A. Track and Field offered her no insurance coverage. You have to be in the top six in the national championships to earn that.
If McNamara was able to rely on more than just her body's natural recovery process, maybe she wouldn't have missed the nationals.
Her plight is similar to that of other American women who want to break into the world class ranks of marathoning, and stay there.
"I basically used up all my savings," she said.
These days she lives off of her race winnings and trains full-time.
THE problem is that when American distance runners finally see a light at the end of the tunnel, it's often another train headed straight at them.
On their best days, American women find themselves thoroughly routed by European, African or Asian competitors.
No elite athlete in the Honolulu Marathon has tested positive for drugs.
But more and more evidence points these days to the possibility that performance-enchancing substances are being passed around like candy in some foreign nations.
And there is yet another thing to consider.
In countries where running can serve as an avenue to a better life, the sport is cultivated and bankrolled in a way that makes the eyes of American athletes water.
So, if you see Christine McNamara out on Kalakaua, Diamond Head Road or Kalanianaole Highway on Sunday morning trying to win one for the U.S. against all odds, let her know that you know what she's been up against.
Who knows. Maybe she'll find a way to snap America's losing streak in the Honolulu Marathon.
Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.