Sporting Eye

See how they ran: No loneliness for these long-distance athletes
By GEORGE KIMBALL and MICHAEL GEE  |  April 30, 2009

Flashback_marathon_1979_main 

This article orginially appeared in the Boston Phoenix on April 24, 1979

There were 7800 official entries and between 2000 and 3000 others along for the ride. By our crude calculations, the leaders were a mile and a half into the course by the time the last runner crossed the starting line. At this rate, some computerized means will have to be devised to provide runners with "corrected time," just as in the Newport-Bermuda yacht race.

It was a zoo. Or a circus. All along the course, from Hopkinton to Boston, people were pushing at least a dozen versions of Boston Marathon T-shirts. A beer company gave away official Boston Marathon balloons, many of which were still ensnared in trees along the route several days later. Vendors hawked special Marathon editions of every daily and weekly paper in town, while helicopters representing television and radio stations competed for airspace overhead in the drizzling sky. Policemen on horseback and motorcycles kept the peace with repeated incursions into the throngs that made up the million-plus spectators who turned out to watch the 83rd running of the Boston Marathon.

Somehow, in the midst of all this, William Rodgers managed, almost easily, to run the fastest Boston Marathon ever, eclipsing his own American record by some 28 seconds to turn in a 2:09:27.

Joan Benoit, of Bowdoin College, overcame the same extraneous lunacy to win the women's division in an even more astounding 2:35:16, also a record. (Her arrival, incidentally, went almost unnoticed at the finish. For openers, she had been preceded by a numberless "unofficial" female who had jumped into the race at God-knows-where – but since it is unlikely that the interloper could have run a 2:20, it probably was not at Hopkinton – and was followed, three minutes later, by local favorite Patti Lyons, of Quincy. Benoit also was wearing a vintage '79 Red Sox cap over her short hair, and arrived at the Prudential in the middle of a batch of male runners. This all contributed to reporters' wandering around the interview area in the Pru garage wondering who the hell she was&ldots;.)

* * *

The 7800 did not, incidentally, include five South Africans who earlier had quietly – and legally – entered the race only to be barred when their nationality was discovered. None of them had entered as a South African, mind you: they had given their current US addresses and affiliations and had provided their American AAU numbers. When word leaked that they held South African passports, though, all five had their official status revoked. Four of them ran unofficially anyway; the best, 2:14 marathoner Bernie Rose, sat out the race.

No one is arguing that a team of runners officially representing the country of South Africa should not be barred. The runners in question, however, had entered individually; all attend college in this country. None had planned to run wearing an "Apartheid Forever" T-shirt or anything – and for that matter, the regulation that forced their expulsion would have thrown out any black South Africans who'd tried to race in Boston.

It was, truly, an outrage, yet fellow runners who attempted to defend their South African counterparts were immediately accused of discrimination and racism. It appears, on the surface, that the BAA people were guilty of the same thing.

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