Our Runner’s Digest radio show had put together a 75-station network for the 1982 Boston Marathon. This was back in the days when running was still consumed by a general public as primarily a sporting contest. That Patriot’s Day I was stationed at the finish line above Ring Road below the Prudential Tower. This was the old marathon finish line, pre-John Hancock 1986, directly across Boylston Street from Hereford Street.
We had six reporters strung along the course giving live updates from the field. To help with their assignment, we put together what we believe was the first press guide for the Boston Marathon. Four of those pages are contained in this post.
By Boston 1982 the running boom was thundering over the land at its highest decibel level. But when word leaked out that Wayland, Mass. native Alberto Salazar was coming back from Oregon to compete for the first time in the hometown marathon, well, for those who have never experienced the excitement that foot-racing once caused, all I can tell you is that the needle was pinned to the far right of the gauge that year. Every TV station in town met him at Logan coming in. He tried to keep it low-profile, but his dad tipped the press. Al was not happy.
Al was homeward bound off two straight New York City Marathon wins, and what we thought was the marathon world record (2:08:13) the previous October. Only later would the course be remeasured and found to be 149 meters short. Notwithstanding, Al was at the height of his piercing focus and unwavering willfulness. The week before Boston he had gone head up against 10,000m world record holder Henry Rono of Kenya at an Alberto-directed 10,000 meter track race at Hayward Field in Eugene, his alma mater. Henry (with a gut, I kid you not) barely got by Alberto 27:29 to 27:30. But Al had shown his fitness, and then some, and seemed ready for anything come Patriot’s Day.
Four-time Boston champion Bill Rodgers was returning after a third-place finish the year before, though the supposition was that Father Time had finally laid his hand on Billy’s shoulder, as the grand champion was now 34. The real contender in 1982 was Minnesota native Dick Beardsley. a U. Minn. man. The previous spring Dick had tied for the win at the inaugural London Marathon, then broke the course record at his home state’s Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth in June. That 2:09:37 was something like the 11th straight marathon PR of his career, and the third best time in American history. His boyish optimism and ascending talents made him a formidable opponent.
But Dickie’s great edge was that he was being coached by none other than Bill Squires, mentor of the Greater Boston Track Club , Bill Rodgers and Alberto’s old coach. Nobody knew how to prep runners for Boston better than Squires. Dick might not have had as grand a series of tuneups as Alberto, dropping out of the Ohme 30K in Japan in late February with a bronchial infection, and then winning a modest 10k in Atlanta April 4th in 29:13. But Squires had put Dickie down in Atlanta to get out of Minnesota’s cold weather and to race over what was a hilly 10k course. Again, Squires knew best.
The 1982 Boston Marathon came to be known as “The Duel in the Sun”, perhaps the most celebrated two-man shootout in Boston Marathon history, certainly in the modern era. On a sunny, shirt-sleeve afternoon — the race still started at noon in those days — Dick led Al away from Rodgers, Bob Larsen-coached Ed Mendoza, and former Honolulu Marathon champion Dean Matthews as the course turned right at Newton’s fire station No. 2 at 17 3/4 miles. The Newton Hills lie ahead. Heartbreak Hill just before mile 21.
From the fire station forward Dick throttled up to high cruising speed trying to grind down AL. But Salazar had just enough meat on the bone to get by him on the final stretch down Ring Road. Their 2:08:52 and 2:08:54 times were the fastest ever run by Americans and among the top five ever run in marathon history at the time. To run that fast on a day when temperatures rose into the 70s and the sun hung unrelenting throughout the course added another inch or two to the dropped jaws seen hanging from marathon fans everywhere. Like Magic and Bird, Ali and Frazier, Salazar and Beardsley would be linked forever more by their exploits on that one memorable day. That neither of them approached the excellence they displayed on Patriot’s Day 30 years ago is a testament to how deeply they dug into thier reservoirs.
Yes, we are intrigued by the exploits of our brethren from East Africa and the speeds they achieve these days. If 2011 Boston champion Geoffrey Mutai or his kin had been running on form in 1982, we might remember Salazar and Beardsley today as nothing more than a couple of hard-chargers picking up top American honors in the first five places rather than as the legendary duelists that books have been written about and stories told and retold of at runner gatherings wherever bravery and pain are celebrated. Both Al and Dick will be asked to relive the glory yet again as they return to Boston to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their classic, and Al promotes his new biography “14 Minutes”.
But what is often forgotten about Boston 1982 is that the great Grete Waitz was also running that day in what turned out to be her only Boston start. By Boston `82 Grete was a three-time New York City Marathon champion, and undisputed world number one. Though the New Zealand Athena, Allison Roe,had taken down Grete’s New York course and world record the previous fall in New York with her 2:25:28 win, Grete was anxious to reclaim the record at Boston, considered the faster of the two courses.
By the fire station turn heading up the hills of Newton, Grete was on 2:23 pace, on her way to shattering the world record. But this was still in the days when athletes, even ones of Grete’s stature, didn’t train specifically for the distance, much less Boston’s particular layout. As such, what was also being shattered through the early miles were Grete’s quads on the pulverizing downhills that seemed, at first, so easy on the pace. Though already a four-time world cross country champion, Grete was no match for a twenty-six mile road adventure down treacherous descents on unprepared legs.
Every stretch of downhill after the Newton uphills was proving pure torture – like an ice pick stabbing shredded muscle with each desperate clench. By the time she reached Coolidge Corner at 24+ miles the severity of the pain was too much, and she withdrew, having no difficulty in putting off the crowd urging her to continue on her record run. After being taken to a local hospital, Grete eventually grabbed a cab back to her hotel where husband Jack had to secure a water-proofed chair from hotel services for her to sit upright in the cold shower, because she couldn’t stand on her own.
When West Germany’s Charlotte Teske crossed the finish line in 2:29:33 she thought she was the runner up, so far ahead had Grete been. Only after a policeman informed her that she was the champion did she mount the victory podium to accept her diamond chip medal and crown of olives. Yet, having been a long-time competitor of Grete’s, the demur Ms. Teske somewhat shrugged aside her win, knowing it wasn’t she who had beaten the great Norwegian, rather it had been the gods of the course itself who had.
Grete didn’t run for ten days after Boston 1982, and sadly, never returned to race there again throughout her glorious career.
When thinking of Boston 1982, we are reminded that the years wash away like tears. We lost Grete last May, and then 1957 champion John J. Kelley left us in August. And though we look forward to 2012 with as much anticipation as ever, the memories remind us that glory lies most fully within the swelling buds of youth. And yet there will be another thirty years from today, as well. So to those whose memories will be made next Monday April 16th, know that the sharp scent of spring, resurrected most sweetly in the blooming magnolia’s along Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay, will always linger, a fragrant reminder of what Boston in April can mean.