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Boston Marathon Course section

Stations covered a lot of ground

By Bill Griffith, Globe Staff, 4/17/2001

overage of international road racing or track and field doesn't get any better than what Boston-area viewers got in yesterday's telecast of the 105th Boston Marathon.

Take your pick from among Channel 4, Channel 5, or ESPN2. You could have watched any of the three and been impressed. Just as competition pushes elite athletes to their best efforts, the battle for ratings brought out the best in the TV news and production staffs.

A track and field fan can only hope for such quality coverage of this summer's World Track and Field Championships or next year's Olympic track and field competition.

No fan of road racing - or lover of big events, in general - could have been disappointed. When it was time for the heartwarming stories, we got them. When the racing began, we saw it all unfold and had it explained by knowledgeable analysts: Frank Shorter and Kathrine Switzer on Channel 4; Marty Liquori, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Bill Rodgers on Channel 5; and Larry Rawson on ESPN2.

Each station will examine the overnight ratings and microanalyze the segments in which its coverage ''won,'' but the truth is the viewers were the winners.

All three outlets made frequent use of the multiple-picture on-screen boxes that Channel 4 news director Peter Brown brought to the event last year. The multiple boxes enabled viewers to monitor as many as three races simultaneously. With the men's wheelchair race an early runaway, that meant the three boxes could keep tabs on the close races that remained.

And the pictures were great, all derived from a pool feed arrangement of the three stations, but varying from coverage to coverage depending upon the choice of shots by each station's director.

It says here Channel 4 had the edge in coverage. Anchor Bob Lobel's enthusiasm for the event set the tone for his station's on-air team. There was the fear he'd schmooze interminably with three-time women's winner Uta Pippig, who was part of the WBZ team. Instead, Lobel stayed with the event and smoothly switched from analyst to analyst. He made it look easy ... and it's not.

Channel 4 got off to a great start with a segment that compared the Marathon to the hit CBS show ''Survivor,'' with wannabe runners falling by the wayside en route to the finish line. It could have been schlocky; instead, it was on the money.

Having eight-time Boston Marathon wheelchair winner Jean Driscoll on board as a commentator turned out to be boffo for Channel 4. She was knowledgeable and seems a natural for a TV career should she pursue one. All she did yesterday was tell the audience after the first couple of miles that Ernst VanDyk was going to be the men's wheelchair winner because he ''got away fast and can coast.'' He ended up beating four-time defending champion Franz Nietlispach by more than six minutes.

Later, Driscoll talked about the ''world acclaim'' she received for her crash at Cleveland Circle in 1997, when her wheel caught in a trolley track. The tracks, she said, were more often the cause of flat tires than rollovers. And she said her ''two-10ths-of-a-second loss to Louise [Sauvage in 1998] was far more traumatic.'' Driscoll also correctly predicted that Sauvage would win her duel with Edith Hunkeler because of ''experience and sprinting ability.'' Sauvage outsprinted Hunkeler for her fourth title in five years.

Twenty minutes after the noon start, Channel 4 switched back to Hopkinton to show how a new starting line system gave everyone a smoother getaway. But the station missed the water-stop gaffe by South African Makhosonke Fika (caught live and duly noted on Channel 5), showing it on tape. It was a refueling moment reminiscent of that insufferable Mobil Speedpass commercial featuring the lead runner in a race leaving the road for a refreshment stop.

Channel 4's Switzer, Pippig, and Lisa Hughes (in the women's lead vehicle) were all over women's winner Catherine Ndereba's decisive break from three-time winner Fatuma Roba (1997-99) around Miles 18 and 19.

All three stations caught Lee Bong Ju's decisive move to win the men's division, and Switzer noted that his victory ''would be incredible face-saving'' after his string of second-place finishes, including the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (by three seconds) and 1998 Rotterdam Marathon.

Shorter noted that while Korea has a strong marathoning tradition, the top runners generally ''stay home to race, venturing out only when they're really ready to run.''

ESPN's Rawson was smooth in interviewing the men's and women's winners. Lee, speaking through an interpreter, didn't say much more than that he was confident he'd win in the last 11/4 miles, but his exuberant ''thank you'' in English and his smile said it all. Rawson drew out Ndereba, who was effusive in her praise for the Boston Athletic Association, sponsor John Hancock, and the quality of the race.

On Channel 5, Samuelson predicted a Ndereba victory when she moved into the lead at 15 miles.

''They're only running a 2:26 pace,'' said Samuelson, who has gone much faster herself. ''Catherine knows she can go faster than this.''

Liquori declared that the men's race would have a new winner as Lee, Silvio Guerra, and Joshua Chelang'a broke away at Cleveland Circle. Rodgers figured Chelang'a was in trouble at that point because ''you can see him gritting his teeth.''

Channels 4 and 5 announced the finish of US Olympian Rod DeHaven, sixth overall and the first American finisher, at the same time. Samuelson went on to say DeHaven had accomplished his two goals, ''finishing in the top 10 and breaking 2:13,'' the latter a reference to his failing to break the Olympic standard of 2:14 in the last US Trials.

By staying with the Marathon a bit past the 4 p.m. scheduled end of its coverage, Channel 4 was able to follow Allie Renna to the finish as part of its ''Testing the Limits'' segment, in which she was wired to monitor heart rate, pace, and calorie consumption. Her finish gave Channel 4's coverage a sense of closure.

As always, the runners gave us the stories.

To its credit, TV told them well.

This story ran on page G11 of the Boston Globe on 4/17/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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