SI Vault
Kenny Moore
April 28, 1980
Bill Rodgers (above) tied the record with a third straight Boston Marathon victory, but who was first to finish the full distance among the women was open to question
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 28, 1980

Mastery And Mystery

Bill Rodgers (above) tied the record with a third straight Boston Marathon victory, but who was first to finish the full distance among the women was open to question

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

The horde of runners competing in Monday's Boston Marathon carefully edged to their places behind the starting line painted on the street in Hopkinton. Those in front gazed down the highway toward Boston, 26 miles, 385 yards away. The road was lined with record crowds and blazing forsythia. There was practically no shade. The heat of the asphalt below and the sun above began to implant well-founded cautions in even the most determined. It was 66�. "Tricky heat," said defending champion Bill Rodgers, sucking on a water bottle. "Calls for finesse." Tom Fleming, who set an almost sacrificial pace for the first 15 miles a year ago in cold rain, said, "I'm a different man. Don't look for me up front in this."

With the heat, things like pace or position had suddenly become ephemeral pleasures, subordinate to survival, even for Patti Lyons, 27, of West Roxbury, Mass., the women's favorite, who had been training as many as 150 miles a week in attaining the condition of her life. She had said, " Boston is my lifelong goal. Not the Olympics. Not the world championships. Boston." But even she decided to begin modestly. At the five-mile mark she was timed at 29:55, a minute and a half behind Ellison Goodall of Wellesley Hills, Mass. Running her first marathon, Goodall was blithely maintaining a pace that, if kept, would have resulted in a 2:30 finish, second only to Grete Waitz' world record of 2:27:33. Goodall, wearing several thousand dollars worth of gold rings, chains and bracelets, thought to herself, "This is awfully pleasant, these first six miles, seeing friends, rolling through the barbecue and suntan oil fragrances of the crowd." Though she tried not to force her pace, she was gratified to constantly hear spectators shout that she was the first woman.

Ahead, Rodgers was equally happy to see that the early rabbits, Michael Koussis of Greece and Marco Marchei of Italy, had slipped back to the main body of contenders, wherein he lurked. "Every time I looked up, I saw only pure blue," he said. "It was easy to wait." Rodgers drank almost everything that was handed him. At 10 miles, he looked around almost absently at the great, drenched field behind.

There, thanks to stiffened entry standards of 2:50 for men under 40, 3:10 for men over 40 and 3:20 for women, only 5,364 runners were blessed with official numbers (down from last year's unwieldy 8,200), but behind and among them strode at least 4,000 more running in sin, or at least without the sanction of Will Cloney, the race's gentle, courtly director for the last 34 years. "We really hope the number of unofficial runners will decline along with the legitimate qualifiers," he had said, his tone as wistful as a priest's in discussing the divorce rate. If the raw mass of the field had not been much reduced, it did seem that Boston 1980 was somewhat subdued in comparison to other years. Much of that was a result of the potentially sapping weather.

The Olympic boycott was having repercussions, too. Olympic years are not kind to Boston in the best of times, because few top foreign runners attend, having their own Olympic qualifying races to point for. This year the U.S. Trials, scheduled for May 24 in Buffalo, had promised to pretty well strip Boston of its best American performers as well. But when the boycott made those trials the qualifying race for zip, serious indecision set in. Frank Shorter, rounding into fine shape in Colorado, held to his plan to run only the Trials. Rodgers, however, had no trouble deciding for Boston. He would be going for a third straight win, something only seven-time victor Clarence DeMar had done, in 1922-24.

Plainly, Rodgers' heart is in his hometown run. His businesses are there, he has built a spare, elegant new home in Sherborn, Mass., and he speaks with fondness of his own part in Boston Marathon history. It was where he arrived, a sudden unexpected master, in 1975, when he ran to an American-record 2:09:55 (which he broke last year with a 2:09:27). "Even if I were to win an Olympic gold medal someday," he says, "I don't know if that would surpass my first win at Boston. It is my favorite victory."

At 32, Rodgers still shows a boyish incredulity that any of this laudable history should have happened to him. The night before this year's race he ate macaroni with soy sauce, watched Seiji Ozawa conduct the Boston Symphony on TV and said, "It's hard to believe the race is tomorrow. It's hard, always, to convince myself that it's coming, that this is what I'm going to do."

Rodgers' plan was to follow the early pacesetters until the 14-mile mark in Wellesley Hills, where begin long downhill stretches, his forte. Upon these he would attack, softening up anyone who could stay with him for the Newton Hills waiting at 18 miles. But when 14 miles was reached, only Kirk Pfeffer was still at Rodgers' elbow. Pfeffer, who had scared the life out of Rodgers for the first 23 miles of last October's New York Marathon, was not fully recovered from hepatitis. Rodgers gained a 100-yard lead in the next mile and knew the race was his if he could hold together.

Behind, Goodall had seen no other women at all until after the eight-mile mark, when Jacqueline Gareau of Montreal, 30, a dark-haired, superbly athletic runner, passed strongly, having to weave through the heavy male traffic that surged around the leading women. Into Wellesley, Goodall was told she was still second by the few Wellesley College women who were not shrieking courage into her ears. The massed scream was so loud it seemed to be trying to get out of the runners' heads, not in. Goodall hit halfway in 1:16, but only 16 seconds behind was Lyons, now running as powerfully as she could. She shot past in pursuit of Gar-eau. The hills lay ahead. Goodall had little left and she knew it. "This is the pits," she said, or a rhyme to that effect.

As he drew ahead, Rodgers had a few miles in which he seemed to enjoy himself as much as in his first Boston victory. He waved at Cloney riding by, holding up four fingers for his imminent number of wins. Then at 20 miles, Rodgers' legs went. "I fell apart," he said later. "My legs never felt this bad in a Boston race. If somebody had passed me, I'd have stopped and cried." No one did, although Marchei closed to a minute and nine seconds at the end. Rodgers won in 2:12:11, then stopped and ached.

Continue Story
1 2