For Steve Jones and Grete Waitz, the 19th New York City Marathon was vindication. For Joan Benoit Samuelson, it was a crashing, but not smashing, return to marathoning.

Jones and Waitz, recent disappointments after years of glory, were the men's and women's first-place finishers in Sunday's race, the largest marathon in history with 22,912 starters.Samuelson, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist who was running her first marathon in three years, was victimized by two collisions, one of which sent her sprawling to the ground, and an unexpected "pit stop," which she attributed to nervousness over her inactivity.

Although Samuelson, who had been unbeaten in five marathons since 1981, finished third among the women, she provided the most spectacular action in the heavily congested field, which at times resembled roller derby.

Near the 11-mile mark, she bumped into Laura Fogli of Italy as the two were chasing Waitz, but neither fell nor was injured.

At the 14-mile point, Samuelson left the course briefly to relieve herself after suffering "stomach cramps."

"I think it was a case of nerves," she said, "because I hadn't run a marathon since 1985."

And just past 21 miles, she was upended by a volunteer who came onto the course with a cup of water for another runner.

"I did a complete somersault, but I got right up," the stunned Samuelson said. "I was so dazed. I don't think I was helped up. I think I got up on my own."

At that juncture, she was running third behind Waitz and Fogli.

"I had Laura in sight," Samuelson said. "I was too focused on catching her, I guess (to notice the volunteer). When I grabbed the water, I planted myself between the man giving me the water ... I was stunned."

Samuelson blamed herself in part for the mishaps.

"I'm notorious for not looking at the course beforehand," she said. "I'll look at courses from now on. This one was a challenge."

Sidelined in recent years because of a series of injuries to her left leg, left hip and back, plus the birth of her first child last year, Samuelson said she was hurting and sore afterward.

"I won't wait three years before I run another marathon," said Samuelson, adding that the probably would run the Boston Marathon in April.

After the final crash, Samuelson, who said, "I lost about 30 seconds to get myself back in order," thought she could catch Waitz or Fogli, "but they were too strong."

Waitz had no difficulty with the course, one that she's run every year since 1978, except last year, when she was injured. She has won every time she started except in 1981, when she did not finish because of stomach cramps.

Sunday's victory was her ninth in New York, and her time of 2 hours, 28 minutes, 7 seconds was only one second slower than her 1986 clocking. No other marathoner has won the same marathon nine times. Waitz had been tied for the record with Johnny Kelley, an eight-time winner of the Yonkers Marathon.

Overall, Waitz has won 13 of 17 marathons, with one second-place finish - in the 1984 Olympics, behind Samuelson - and three unfinished races, including this year's Olympic marathon in Seoul.

The injury which kept her out of the 1987 New York City Marathon and the arthroscopic knee surgery which forced her out of this year's Olympics made Waitz an uncertain commodity coming into Sunday's race.

"This victory is a little sweeter than the others, except for the first one 10 years ago," she said after leading the women virtually the entire distance. "This one is not the most important, like the one in 1978, because if I hadn't won that one, I wouldn't be here today."

Waitz had said after the frustration of watching last year's New York City Marathon, she was thinking seriously about retiring. She was talked out of it by her husband, Jack.

Winning the $26,385 first prize, plus a new Mercedes-Benz, made her thankful she did not quit.

Jones, who received the same first prize and a similar car, also has been frustrated in recent years.

After winning the Chicago Marathon in 1984 in 2:08:05, then a world best, winning the 1985 London Marathon in 2:08:16 and defending his Chicago title in 1985 in 2:07:13, one second short of the world best.

Jones was ecstatic over his victory.