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Gomes seeks 3rd New York Marathon title

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Marilson Gomes dos Santos cried every day for three months.

He was 15 years old and had never been away from home, not even for a night. Now he was living on his own in a strange city to train with a running club. All he wanted was to move back with his family.

He talked to his parents all the time, and they encouraged him to stick it out. For all the doubts, Gomes never did quit.

"I had this will to win," he said, "to be someone in life through track and field."

Just three years ago, the Brazilian was a bit of a nobody in the world of elite distance running. He's still never finished better than sixth in a major marathon outside New York.

But everything changed when he won the 2006 New York Marathon, his competitors conceding afterward they didn't know much about him. After another victory last year, the 32-year-old Gomes has a chance Sunday to become just the third three-time winner of the men's race - and first since 1982.

In the 40th running of the event, Gomes takes on a men's field that is still deep despite former champs Paul Tergat and Martin Lel pulling out because of injuries.

Gomes' family had little money when he was growing up on the outskirts of Brasilia, the nation's capital. His father, Vitor, was a construction worker, and his mother, Cintia, stayed at home.

He started running for fun when he was 12 to be like his older brother. Within three years Gomes received an invitation to train with a club in Sao Paulo, about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) away. He had long days of studying in the morning and training in the afternoon.

"It was very different to be by myself," Gomes said. "In my house I had everything handy, ironed clothes, food. (In Sao Paulo) I had to do it all by myself."

The adjustment became easier once he started having success in running. Now his achievements on the world stage have sllowed him to provide a comfortable life for his family.

Gomes is a celebrity in football-crazy Brazil, but his longtime coach, Adauto Dominguez, said many things haven't changed since he was a short, skinny teenager.

"The most important thing," Dominguez said, "is that even with the financial boost, the fame, nothing changed in his personality, his introspective nature, his attachment to his family."