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Slightly smaller marathon field expected this year

Pre-race venues changing; new wireless technology may be used

By Eddie Medina, Boston.Com Staff, 03/01/00

The 105th Boston Marathon won't be the biggest field ever, by a long shot. It's five years past the centennial, and the millennium run is history. But as always, the venerable event will have a few new wrinkles.


The Boston Athletic Association has reached an agreement with Nextel Communications Inc. to try out a new wireless technology during this year's marathon.

The technology will expand the use of the computer chip that is inserted into every runner's shoe.

In the past the chip has been used by BAA race officials to track the runner at various check points around the course and determine their overall race time.

This year Nextel will help the BAA broadcast that data to cell phone users so race fans will be able to tell where an individual bib number is on the course. The technology will involve a WAP-enabled Web site and a form of Nextel's wireless messaging service.

Nextel spokesman John Redman said the technology worked during a test on Wednesday and that the company plans to use it in the Marathon. Barring any unforseen technical problems, Redman said the company plans to release more details about it in the coming weeks as details of the tracking program are finalized with the BAA.

-By Eddie Medina, Staff, 03/22/01


This year will see an average-sized field, a change of venue for some pre-race events, and possibly a breakthrough use of technology.

The 26.2-mile event, the oldest continually-run marathon, will take place on Monday, April 16, the day after Easter.

Jack Fleming, director of communications for the Boston Athletic Association, which runs the race, says this year's field will be capped at 15,000 official competitors -- 2,813 fewer than in 2000. The record field is 38,708 for the 100th anniversary race in 1996. The deadline for entries was today.

Fleming says the BAA has "definitely" seen heightened interest in this year's race. He says the cap was put in place for logistic reasons, and wouldn't comment on whether the BAA will expand the field in 2002 or 2003.

For the BAA, planning and organizing the race takes an entire year. "We are in that mode of a lot of stuff going on," says Fleming.

One thing keeping organizers busy is the last-minute crush of entries -- thousands have arrived in the final two weeks. After the BAA weeds through them, they'll choose a final field, assign 15,000 race numbers, order 15,000 bibs, and so on.

As part of its preparations, the BAA is negotiating with Compaq Computer Corp. and wireless service provider Nextel Communications to expand the use of the computer chip that tracks each individual runner's progress over the marathon course.

The Champion Chip, which has been used every year since 1996, fits to a runner's shoe and allows the BAA to track when competitors cross the start line in Hopkinton, pass various check points along the route and finish on Boylston Street in Boston. In recent years the data generated from the chips has been placed on the BAA's Web site,, on race day.

Fleming would not give specifics of the new plan for the chip, but said it involves wireless technology and would allow the BAA to use technology "like we have never used it before."

Other changes this year include a new venue for some of the traditional pre-marathon events.

The annual pasta party sponsored by Ronzoni will take place at City Hall Plaza instead of at Faneuil Hall. Because of the date of this year's marathon, the party will take place on Easter evening.

And, the John Hancock Sports and Fitness Expo that usually takes place at the Hynes Convention Center in downtown Boston will switch to the World Trade Center in South Boston. It will be held from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday, April 14 and Sunday, April 15.

As for celebrities, this year the BAA plans to feature Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb during many of this year's events.

Gibb was the first woman ever to finish the Boston Marathon. In 1966, she jumped into the field at the starting line as an unofficial competitor after BAA officials rejected her application, saying women were not physiologically able to run 26.2 miles. She finished in three hours 20 minutes, well below today's qualifying time for young women.

Gibb ran in the 1996 Boston Marathon and will run again this year.

Beside Gibb, a number of Olympic athletes such as Calvin Davis (a Dorchester native and 400-meter hurdles bronze medalist in 1996) will take part in the BAA's youth program.

The BAA's Club 105 helps organize running clubs among public schools in Boston. The BAA began the program with a track meet at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury on Valentine's Day. The program, which is expected to attract around 500 kids this year, will culminate in a relay event to be held on April 14 on Boylston Street.

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