Call him "Wrong-Way" German Silva. Also call him the winner of the 1994 New York City Marathon.

In winning the 25th edition of the race in bizarre fashion Sunday, Silva avoided the ignominy that has haunted college football's Roy Riegels and baseball's Fred Merkle for their bonehead mistakes decades ago.It was the kind of race that Fred Lebow, long-time race director, would have loved - drama, excitement and the closest finish in the race's history.

It also was the kind of race that Allan Steinfeld dreaded as Lebow's successor.

As Silva and his Mexican compatriot, Benjamin Paredes, were running side-by-side with about seven tenths of a mile remaining in the 26-mile, 385-yard race, Silva took a wrong turn into Central Park. It cost him about 12 seconds, 35 meters and nearly the race.

It also sent Steinfeld into a frenzy.

Miraculously, Silva quickly recovered from his error, got back on course and chased down Paredes, winning in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 21 seconds.

When Silva made his mistake, Steinfeld was at the finish line and a series of possiblities raced through his mind.

"Should he have won? Could he have won? Might he have won?" Steinfeld said he thought upon hearing of Silva's confusion.

"Why me?" he added.

By winning, Silva solved Steinfeld's dilemma.

Had Silva not won, however, Steinfeld said he still might have declared him the winner or he might have declared Silva and Paredes co-champions and ordered a split of the first- and second-place prize money - $20,000 for winning, $15,000 for being runner-up.

"I could have ruled him (Silva) the winner if it was obvious that was going to be the case," said Steinfeld, who was put in charge of the race after Lebow died Oct. 9 following a 4 1/2-year battle with brain cancer.

"Otherwise, I don't know. I had the right to declare him the winner."

Asked why he might have made such a controversial decision, Steinfeld said, "Whose race is it?"

"If Fred were here, he would have come to me and said, `What do we do?"' Steinfeld said. "We might have come up with something rational."

It became academic when Silva swept past Paredes with about 400 yards remaining, got a pat on the back from his countryman and raced to a two-second victory. The previous closest finish was Alberto Salazar's four-second triumph over Rodolfo Gomez in 1982.

Ironically, Gomez is Silva's coach.

Silva's dramatic comeback overshadowed the stunning victory by Tegla Loroupe in the women's division.

The wispy 21-year-old Kenyan became the youngest winner since the race became a five-borough event in 1976, clocking 2:27:37 - only five seconds shy of the New York City record for a first-time marathoner set by Liz McColgan of Scotland in 1991.

"I was not expecting to win, but I think I have to attempt to win," said Loroupe, a 4-foot-11, 84-pounder who was not among the top 10 at the halfway point before rallying with a second-half split of about 1:12:30.

"My training was not so special to me. I started to run long distances two hours per week, but I hurt my knee and I had to stop. So I ran on grass 150K (94 miles) per week."

Silva's mistake brought back memories of Riegels' wrong-way run for California in the 1929 Rose Bowl, Merkle's failure to touch second base in 1908 and Jim Marshall's wrong-way 66-yard run with a recovered fumble for a Minnesota Vikings safety against the San Francisco 49ers in a 1964 NFL game.

Riegels' mistake became a part of football lore because of the significance of the game and because it cost his team a victory. He recovered a fumble at Georgia Tech's 35 and raced to Cal's 1-yard line before being tackled by a Tech player.

Merkle's boner became etched in baseball history because it cost the New York Giants a shot at the pennant.

Silva avoided such embarrassment.

"I was very concentrated in the race," he said about turning into the park one block too soon.

After taking 12 steps into the park and watching Paredes go the other way, he realized the error of his ways.

"Most of the people were on the other street," Silva said. "When I turned, there was nobody there."

It was a most fortuitous correction for Silva. In addition to the $20,000 for winning, he got a $15,000 bonus for breaking 2:12 and a new Mercedes-Benz sedan. Loroupe also received the $20,000 and new car for winning, plus a $17,500 bonus for breaking 2:28.

Paredes appeared puzzled when he saw Silva make the wrong turn.

"I was a bit confused, but when I saw that I was in a good position, I decided to push a little," Paredes said through a translator. "When he passed me, I couldn't push anymore.

"I knew I was in trouble when he came back. If it came to 400 meters, I was in trouble."

Despite his faux pas, Silva thought he could win.

"At 500 meters, I was thinking I could do it," he said. "All I wanted to do was catch him.

"I'm sorry for the slow time. Victory is what was on my mind."

Victory was what Silva had promised - and what he produced.

"When I made my preparation for the race, my thought was only to win the race - not make second," he said. "In New York, everybody will remember only the winner.

"I said I would win. I had to after I said it."

Arturo Barrios, a Mexican who became an American citizen in September, finished third for the second consecutive year, in 2:11:43.

Medina Biktagirova of Belarus was the women's runner-up in 2:30:00 and Anne Marie Letko of Glen Gardner, N.J., was third in 2:30:19.

Three runners were stricken with heart attacks, and two of them died. They were the first deaths at the marathon since 1983.

Medical workers said both men who died collapsed in Central Park. Pierre Marquette, 27, of New York collapsed shortly after crossing the finish line. The other runner was identified only as a 50-year-old Frenchman.