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Jean Driscoll and Bob Hall   Seven-time Boston Marathon wheelchair champion Jean Driscoll, left, and men's wheelchair legend Bob Hall of Boston talk with reporters Thursday. (AP)


Driscoll hoping close losses become a win; Frei back in men's competition

By Jay Lindsay, Associated Press, 4/13/00

BOSTON -- For two straight years, Jean Driscoll has learned just how much close losses hurt, and both times it was Louise Sauvage who taught her.

In 1998, Sauvage passed Driscoll as she was raising her hands in victory at the finish line, winning by two-tenths of a second in the women's wheelchair race of the Boston Marathon. Last year, Sauvage held off a late charge by Driscoll to win by a half second, leading Driscoll to wonder in frustration if she'd be back in Boston in 2000.

She is, and Driscoll says this year will be different. She's not guaranteeing victory, but added, "I have a calm confidence right now."

Driscoll, 33, of Champaign, Ill., won the Boston Marathon seven straight years between 1990-1996, and said Thursday that she considers winning the race more important than getting an Olympic medal.

But after the 26-year-old Australian Sauvage took her third straight Boston Marathon last year, the American Driscoll, feeling burned out, said she might not be back in 2000.

Driscoll took three months off from the fall racing circuit and didn't train at all for six weeks. The break rejuvenated her. She competed in a 367 mile race across Alaska and another race in Falmouth in tough conditions, and realized she had what it took to go back to Boston.

"I know I still have the passion in my gut," she said

Sauvage is glad Driscoll is back.

"We've had a great rivalry," Sauvage said. "I look forward to racing Jean wherever, but especially in Boston because Jean's the queen there, and it's sort of her race. I look forward to coming in and trying to win."

Sauvage is in great shape, and is particularly good downhill. Uphill climbing is Driscoll's forte. Looking back at the last two races, Driscoll can think of dozens of places where she could have gone harder.

Her strength training has been aimed at making up those split-seconds.

"I've made them up easily," she said.

As tight as the women's race was last year -- both Sauvage and Driscoll were timed in at 1 hour, 42 minutes, 23 seconds over the 26-mile, 385-yard course -- the men's wheelchair race was a blowout. When Switzerland's Franz Nietlispach crossed the finish line to win his third Boston Marathon in a row, no other competitor was in sight.

That could change this year, as course record holder Heinz Frei, also of Switzerland, returns to Boston after a two-year absence.

Frei's record is 1:21:36, 13 seconds faster than Nietlispach's winning time last year.

Frei's conditioning is legendary, according to wheelchair division coordinator Bobby Hall, but Boston's hilly course is built for Nietlispach, who weighs about 190 pounds and uses the weight to his advantage on downhill stretches.

"Maybe I'm too light," Frei said. "At some points it makes it difficult to catch him, like Heartbreak Hill."

But Frei expects a tighter race this year.

"I think Franz and me, we push together for the top level in the world," he said.

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