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Boston Marathon Course section


By not getting into the pool, Channel 7 takes a dive

By Howard Manly, Globe Staff 4/18/00

And that's why television stations pay to be in the Boston Marathon media pool.

When Franz Nietlispach won the men's wheelchair race, Channel 4, Channel 5, and ESPN2 had it live. Channel 7, which opted not to pony up to receive live footage, was showing ``Days of Our Lives,'' a soap opera.

When Jean Driscoll outpaced her nemesis, Louise Sauvage, to end a three-year losing streak and capture her eighth Marathon, Channel 4, Channel 5, and ESPN2 had it live. Channel 7 didn't.

When Elijah Lagat, Moses Tanui, and Gezahenge Abera turned the corner onto Boylston Street, transforming the 26.2-mile marathon into a half-mile sprint, Channel 4, Channel 5, and ESPN2 had live coverage of what many analysts called the most exciting finish in the 104-year history of the Boston Marathon. Channel 7 still had the soap opera.

And the surprising victory of Catherine Ndereba, followed closely by the second-place photo finish between Irina Bogacheva and defending champion Fatuma Roba, was live on Channel 4, Channel 5, and ESPN2. Not on Channel 7.

By all accounts, yesterday's Marathon exceeded expectations, the runners overcoming chilly temperatures and stiff headwinds to produce exciting, competitive races in every category except the men's wheelchair division. It was a day of moments, a day not easily captured by highlights later in the evening.

Consider the last half-mile or so of the women's race, when Ndereba could barely contain her smile, knowing she was too far in front to lose, and then shedding tears when the Kenyan national anthem played. Or when Tanui took off on Boylston Street, only to be overtaken by Lagat and then Abera.

You had to be there _ and, unfortunately, Channel 7 wasn't.

Channel 7 did the best it could. Gene Lavanchy was stationed at the finish live and served as the station's traffic cop, going to Mishelle Michaels for weather reports, Joe Amorosino at the starting line in Hopkinton, or Teri Adler in Framingham. The station, with Gary Gillis in its helicopter, provided good aerial shots of the early stages of the race.

But the station's decision to pull out of the pool coverage hampered its ability to provide real-time footage of some of the most dramatic action in recent Marathon history.

Channel 4 and Channel 5 reaped the local benefit. Both provided good analysis and start-to-finish coverage. Channel 4 probably had a slight edge by giving viewers three screens at the same time, showing the men's, women's, and women's wheelchair races at critical points.

Channel 4 also had the first explanation of the close finish between Roba and Bogacheva from Tom Mahr, a race official, who told WBZ that Bogacheva came in second even though she and Roba had the same time.

Channel 5's Natalie Jacobson sounded a bit perturbed when her station was unable to provide an official explanation of the finish. The Channel 5 analysts appeared confused, and Jacobson and Chet Curtis suggested that Roba appeared to have beaten Bogacheva because her foot hit the line first.

Channel 4 expert Frank Shorter had said that close finishes were determined by the first chest to cross the line, and with that explanation, it appeared that a surging Bogacheva edged out Roba.

Channel 4 always appeared to be a second ahead of Channel 5, but that is no slight to Channel 5. We're talking degrees of excellence.

Channel 5's team of Mike Lynch, Mike Dowling, and Ed Harding provided good live reports from their positions throughout the course. Channel 5's Marty Liquori said at the outset that he didn't care whether any world records were set. ``A lot of people like to see fast times and fast races,'' Liquori said. ``But I'd rather see a close race, two or three guys running man-to-man, woman-to-woman.''

Liquori got his wish.

The women's race was tight throughout. Roba appeared comfortable while her early rivals, Sun Yingjie and Firaya Sultanova-Zhdanova, seemed strained, prompting Channel 5's Jack Harper to say, ``I don't know if they can keep up the pace. They look so pained, so terrible.''

Yingjie had a different problem _ her running style. She rarely moves her arms, which for most runners serve as pistons. Channel 5's Joan Benoit Samuelson said that Yingjie could be conserving energy or ``someone hasn't taught her how to run yet.'' Either way, Roba appeared to have the race in hand.

Toni Reavis, who provided commentary for Channel 7 last year, told Channel 4 viewers that after 90 minutes, Roba had ``put the hammer down'' and surged to a decent lead.

``She's gone,'' Channel 4's Uta Pippig said.

But her lead didn't hold, as Ndereba pulled close at Heartbreak Hill and finally separated from Roba near Kenmore Square.

The men's race also was thrilling. Liquori explained that even though Lagat and Tanui were teammates, Lagat and Abera appeared to team up to pull away from Tanui down the stretch. Tanui, known for his late kicks, was able to hold the two off and then pull away on Boylston Street. But his surge didn't last long. Both Lagat and Abera caught him down the stretch.

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