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Boston, London? Apples, oranges

These races attract different runners

By John Powers, Globe Staff, 4/15/2002

Is the London Marathon - which yesterday produced a world record in the men's race and a near-miss in the women's - the ''World's Greatest Race,'' as its organizers claim?

''The world's greatest is the Olympic marathon,'' said David D'Alessandro, chairman of John Hancock, which has sponsored Boston since 1986. ''It's the only time you get to run against all the world's best at one time.''

London did get the world's attention, though, by bringing together victor Khalid Khannouchi, Haile Gebrselassie , and Paul Tergat, paying each $300,000 just for showing up. That's not Boston's style, said D'Alessandro. ''This is not a match race. Our philosophy has been to bring back defending champions and have a deep field.''

Which is why the two races usually go after different people. ''Most people who run London run it for one of three reasons,'' said D'Alessandro. ''They need a fast time. They hate the hills here. Or the guarantee is overwhelming.''

The Newton hills rule out a world mark here (nobody has run one in Boston since Yun Bok Suh in 1947) and Hancock won't get into a bidding war with London. After 106 years (to London's 21), Boston figures its race can stand on its own.

'' Rob de Castella had it right 15 years ago when he said that aside from the Olympics, Boston is the one race a true marathoner wants to win before he ends his career,'' D'Alessandro said. ''It has to do with the prestige. The last time the Brits ran a great marathon was when Cornwallis retreated.''

Test-free race

Though London has gone to blood tests for its elite runners, Boston has no plans to follow suit. ''Until there is a consistent international testing standard for all sports, why bother?'' D'Alessandro said ... Since the course managed to handle more than 38,000 runners for the 100th race in 1996 (and London had 32,000 yesterday), should Boston increase the field from today's 16,000? ''There are an awful lot of people who complain because they can't run here,'' said D'Alessandro. ''It wouldn't be hard to make it 25,000. But that's the [Boston Athletic Association's] call.''

US hopes

What would be a good result for the Americans today? ''Between fifth and 10th place,'' said Mark Coogan, the top US male entrant with a 2:13:05 personal best. ''I'd love to be top 10,'' said Boston College grad Jill Gaitenby, who was the top American woman (13th, 2:36:45) last year. No home-grown runner has won the men's race since Greg Meyer in 1983; last year's sixth place by Rod DeHaven was the best showing in eight years. No US woman has won since Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in 1985 or made the top five since Kim Jones was second in 1993. American hopes took a blow yesterday when Josh Cox, who led last year's race near the midway point and finished 12th, withdrew because of a lingering virus.

Team effort

The BAA, which created the race but has produced only one champion - John ''The Younger'' Kelley in 1957 - is still a top contender for the team title. The men have won it twice in the last five years, with the women prevailing in 1997-98. The crown goes to the club with the top three combined times. The Lehigh Valley Road Runners Club of Pennsylvania is defending champion on the men's side, The Bears Running Club of New Jersey on the women's. The BAA will have 130 entrants (nearly half its membership) in the race; its top hope rests with Tim Harte, a Harvard grad from Cambridge whose personal best is 2:26:40.

A beefy request

Not that anybody's quibbling about the $80,000 victor's check, but nostalgia endures for what used to be the prize for all Boston finishers - a bowl of beef stew. ''I thought that was cool,'' said Bill Rodgers, who won his four races when the reward was a laurel wreath and a gold medal. ''They should bring back the stew. That's Boston. Gotta go with your local flavor.''

Marvin Pave of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page D10 of the Boston Globe on 4/15/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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