"The kids are getting too fast," said Marsh. "These guys were great runners today. I'm proud of where I finished. I dug for everything I had. My only thought when I stepped on the track was `Don't short-change yourself.' I'm pleased with the effort. That's all I ever ask for."

For 13 years he's been asking, and all he's got to show for it is the most enduring and successful career in steeplechase history. A lot of runners in a lot of events have kissed the track goodbye a lot sooner than Henry Marsh.

His sixth place finish Friday, although unrewarded by an Olympic medal, ushered Marsh into the Track & Field News record book as the all-time leading points-getter in the history of the steeplechase. He needed a finish of 10th or better to pass Gaston Rowlands of Belgium, a steeplechase legend in his own time.

For an unprecedented 12 straight seasons, Marsh ranked in the top 10 in the world in his specialty, and if you count his top 10 finish in the Montreal Olympics, that would make it 13 straight. No athlete in any track discipline, or field either, has stayed on top as long.

He had his problems with world championships, constantly falling or getting disqualified or being boycotted out of them. But it was over the long haul that he always shined. He ranked No. 1 in the world three separate seasons and if anyone says Marsh never won any big ones then they're not counting nine TAC national championships and two U.S. Trials titles.

All this endurance in a sport that, even by track's standards in America, is obscure, not to mention difficult.

Marsh's motivation hasn't been riches or world acclaim. Always it's been to be as good as he could be.

To that end, he never met a day he couldn't work a workout into. Or a meet he couldn't train for. He got married, started a family, earned two college degrees and started a business career, and still never broke his steeplechase stride.He did it on his own terms, day in, day out.

The steeplechase, with its five rock-solid hurdles that dare you to get backup, had never seen Marsh's equal. He wasn't particularly fast, by the track world's standards, or agile, or even lean; and his racing style of staying off the lead until the final lap was the equivalent of working without a net.

Beyond that, he rarely, thoughout his career, had any Americans to push him.(He retires with the American record of 8:09.17 _ a mark that is the ninth fastest ever run and one that no American has come within four seconds of).

He didn't go out on top Friday, but he was close enough. Four of the five runners ahead of him had to register the No. 2, 3, 5 and 16 fastest steeplechases in history to beat him. He himself ran his fastest race in over three years.

"I dug for everything I had," said Marsh.

He said it won't be easy, leaving a sport he's reckoned with on a daily basis for the past 13 years. That's why he kissed the track and waved goodbye _ to make it as official as he could, to offset any potential future change of heart.