Man isn’t just a pattern-seeking animal, he is a goal-setting beast. From breaking the four-minute mile to putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth, we have constantly striven to outdo our forefathers. Accordingly, we have seen the standards of excellence mount with an almost linear progression through the course of time.
Today, the marathon performances of the Running Boom champions seem almost quaint by today’s standards, as far from world class as the exploits of their own predecessors seemed during their time in the sun. At this year’s 117th Boston Marathon, five of its greatest champions from the Boom era will return to celebrate the anniversaries of their winning moments.
A decorated member of Les Soixante Huitards, Amby Burfoot will be celebrating the 45th anniversary of his 1968 Boston win with a small group of friends and family at 4:30 pace. In the constantly self-generating times of yore, it was Amby who brought his college roommate at Wesleyan University, Bill Rodgers, back into the running fold with his victory, just as Amby, himself, had been mentored by the previous “last American” to win Boston, John J. Kelley (1957).
Though she only ran 3:05:59 on a hot Patriot’s Day in 1973, California’s Jacqueline Hansen would twice set the women’s world record, and notch the first sub-2:40 in history. While she won’t be running in celebration of her 40th anniversary, she will have three athletes she coaches on the starting line in her stead as she serves as official women’s race starter.
1979 & `83 women’s champion Joan Samuelson will come down from Maine to commemorate her world record 2:22:43 from 1983. That year Joanie blitzed through the half in 1:08:40s, and all this time later is still in competitive mode. Her fellow 1983 champion Greg Meyer, now in his 30th year as ‘the last American man to win Boston’, will jog with his two sons, Jacob and Danny, trying to finish “before dinner”.
Greg’s mentor and four-time men’s champion Bill Rodgers, the erstwhile King of the Roads, will be celebrating his two-second win over fast-closing Texan Jeff Wells in 1978. Bill will not run in 2013, but remains in awe of one who will.
“What’s interesting about Joan is nobody is running as well as a senior who was also a top star in the open division. She is astounding. John Campbell and Priscilla Welch didn’t have long open division careers. That’s one reason they own most of the master’s marks. But when you turn 55 you enter another era physiologically. Joan is the only person from 30 years ago who is still competing at a high level. But, then again, I’ve done 60 marathons, she’s done 40.”
One school of thought believes it is actually bad for your health to have been a world-class athlete, that you may, in fact, strip away years due to the intensity of training.
“Once you’ve been active hard for years,” said Boston Billy, “at the cellular level your legs are shot. So Joanie is doing almost the impossible. Frank (Shorter) and I have more hard miles than anyone in the nation, 5000 — 6000 miles a year in training. We must have done 170,000 miles, Joanie maybe has 150,000. We were winging it, too, as far as training went. We were not nearly as scientific as today. Plus, we were out there trying to win $500 every weekend to survive. Today, the race levels are so high compared to then.”
Ah, the years, like mercury they flow. From what new standards in time will 2012 Boston Marathon champions Wesley Korir and Sharon Cherop be looking back at when they return in 2042 to celebrate their own 30th anniversaries?