Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
Boston Marathon Course section

Swiss duo intimidating

Frei, Nietlispach at head of field

By Bob Monahan, Globe Staff, 4/13/2001

he consensus is that the men's wheelchair duel between Heinz Frei of Switzerland and countryman and defender Franz Nietlispach will be a highlight among Monday's Marathon events.

Frei set a course record in 1994 when he won the race in 1 hour 21 minutes 23 seconds. Nietlispach, who won the last four years, came within 13 ticks of that mark in 1999 with his 1:21:36.

These two have dominated in recent years. In 1991 Nietlispach served notice that he was a blue-chip racer when he finished third (1:35:12) behind Jim Knaub (1:30:44) and Craig Blanchette (1:34:32.)

Frei entered the winner's circle in 1994 with his course- and world-record 1:21:23. The race conditions were perfect that day and popular Jean Driscoll won the women's event for the fifth straight time with a course-record 1:34:22. Frei, a six-time winner of the Berlin Marathon, broke the world mark five years later in the Oita (Japan) Marathon.

In 1995 Nietlispach won his first laurel wreath with a personal best 1:25:59 and Frei was second in 1:27:49. A sidelight to that race was pioneer Bob Hall, who celebrated the 20th anniversary of his 1975 performamce with a 1:47.41 effort that gave him 23d place.

Frei was The Man again in 1996 - the 100th edition - as he overtook Nietlispach at the 8-mile mark and posted a winning 1:30:14.

After that it was all Nietlispach as he won in a breeze in 1997 by seven minutes and won with comfort the next three years. Last year Frei was second, 5:11 behind.

Hall, the real founder of the wheelchair divisions, said, ''Franz [Nietlispach] has his eye on a course record. He's been doing real well and has come close to the record. He always does well in Boston.

''And Heinz also is ready and I wouldn't be surprised if he dug down a little and also goes for the record.

''My heart goes with Heinz because I think he's the most awesome racer we've ever seen. But certainly he will be pushed by his countryman Franz, who I equally admire.

''They are so different in terms of their personalities and in terms of their abilities. And the end result is that they are great wheelchair racers and I hope they both come ready on Monday because we could have a heck of a race.''

Frei has a higher level of disability than Nietlispach and his ability to climb hills is not as great as Nietlispach's. Said Hall, ''Traditionally, on a flat surface you would see Heinz taking off and Franz following. But in a race like Boston [with hills], you might see just the opposite.''

Two others who will demand respect are South African Ernst VanDyk, who was eighth in 1999, and Australian Paul Nunnari who was eighth last year.

''You have to pay attention to a lot of people,'' said Hall. ''You have that `on-any-given day' saying. Others will be knocking on the door.''

Keith Davis of California and Scot Hollonbeck (third in 1999) of Georgia bear watching. Also not to be overlooked is Saul Mendoza (third in 1998, second in 1999, and third last year). Mendoza, who races with a passion, has Boston's ninth best time with his 1:25:18 in 1999. Mendoza is a 33-year-old Mexican who lives in Atlanta and he's always improving. Hollonbeck is 30 and his third-place finish in 1999 was impressive.

With Nietlispach and Frei both 43, the age factor could be part of the equation. The average age of all winners is 33.5. The youngest winners were Hall (23 in 1975 and 25 in 1977) and Mustapha Badid of France, who won at 24 in 1990.

Nietlispach and Frei are the oldest winners. Will Father Time be a factor? Could be.

Others with solid credentials include Adam Bleakney of Illinois, and Canadians Michel Filteau and Kelly Smith.

Locally, Tim Kelly of Weymouth will make his debut. Kelly, 34 and a graduate of Duxbury High School and Wentworth Institute, said, he's been competing mostly in shorter distances (5 miles, 10K). ''I like it,'' said Kelly. ''I have a new chair and I competed in the Bay State Marathon in Lowell and qualified for Boston (1:59). ''I have never raced Boston and I never tested the course because the weather has been poor. I've been pushing around where I live and on rollers.''

Kelly's goal is two hours.

Race Day Coverage
Stuck at work? Check out out stride-by-stride webcast for up-to-the-minute Boston Marathon updates.