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Her nemesis departed, Sauvage shows off staying power

By Susan Bickelhaupt, Globe Staff, 4/17/2001

ver since Louise Sauvage started competing in the women's wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon in 1993, the Australian has had a nemesis in Jean Driscoll. Sauvage finally snapped Driscoll's seven-year winning streak in 1997, the first of her three straight victories. But her nemesis struck again last year, as Driscoll took back the laurel crown.

Even though Driscoll had announced her retirement from the Marathon long before yesterday's race, Sauvage had her doubts. ''I didn't believe it for sure until I didn't see her at the starting line,'' she said.

Sauvage didn't see her for the next 26.2 miles, either, as she rolled to victory in 1 hour 53 minutes 54 seconds.

Edith Hunkeler of Switzerland stayed wheel to wheel with Sauvage until the two rounded the corner onto Boylston Street for the final sprint. That's when Sauvage got out from behind Hunkeler, maneuvered to her right, and pulled away. Hunkeler, 28, finished four seconds back.

Neither racer had any doubt about the outcome once the Olympian made her move. ''I always planned to go away,'' said Hunkeler, ''but she was always behind me, and I finally said, `OK, she's too fast and I don't have enough to win the race.' I tried to go away the whole race, but I knew that her experience is bigger than mine.''

''We had a great race,'' said Sauvage. ''We stayed together the whole time. I just came through with the sprint finish. We really went from a long way out, and I wasn't sure it would hold, but I ended up doing that, and now I'm so glad it's over.''

In more ways than one, perhaps. After her fourth win in nine Boston appearances, the 27-year-old Sauvage hinted that this might be her last Boston Marathon.

''I love this race, and it's great to go out with a win,'' she said. ''I've been doing this for a very long time, and it gets to the point where it's a lot of traveling.''

Sauvage definitely will continue shorter road and track races, like the 800, 1,500, and 5,000 meters, all of which she won in the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. She also took gold in the 1,500-meter race in last fall's Paralympics in Sydney.

Sauvage is from Sydney but she knows the Boston roads well enough to laugh when asked whether the potholes on the weather-beaten streets bothered her. ''The roads are always pretty rough here,'' she said. ''You keep an eye out for bumps and ditches and things. But it's just part of the race in Boston.''

The course also includes trolley tracks, which were the downfall of Sauvage's rival four years ago. The two were neck and neck - as usual - when Driscoll's chair overturned when she hit the tracks at Cleveland Circle. Sauvage went on to win her first Boston Marathon but took little joy in the way it had happened. She warned Hunkeler about the tracks yesterday.

''We really didn't talk that much, but I was trying to get her to slow down on the downhills, especially going into Cleveland Circle,'' Sauvage said. ''I didn't want what happened in '97 to happen again.''

Hunkeler survived the tracks, but couldn't handle Sauvage's sprint finish.

''I'm not disappointed, really,'' said Hunkeler, who had participated in three previous Marathons, finishing third two years ago. ''Once in my life I know I'll win the Boston Marathon. And I hope next year.''

With no Jean Driscoll and perhaps no Louise Sauvage on the scene, it's a possibility.

This story ran on page G10 of the Boston Globe on 4/17/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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