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Anniversary of a win that was a piece of cake

By John Powers, Globe Staff, 4/18/2003

Everybody figured Greg Meyer was going to win that day in 1983, except for Greg Meyer. At least not coming through Natick. Benji Durden was in the lead and pulling away. Meyer had felt "crummy" for the first 10 miles. "You're thinking, am I going to have a decent day?" Meyer says.

Meyer ended up with the best day of his life, a runaway victory (by 31 seconds) over Ron Tabb and a time (2:09:00) that is still the fourth-fastest by an American in Boston. Had he not cruised for the final three miles, Meyer almost certainly would have rubbed out Alberto Salazar's course record (2:08:52) from the previous year.

"Somebody in the press truck told me to relax, that there was nobody coming," says Meyer, who was on world-record pace coming out of the Newton hills. "Had I not known that . . . But for me, it was never about time. It was all about winning. That was the whole point of it."

Meyer had been gunning for the laurel wreath ever since he'd arrived from Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1978, taken a job in Bill Rodgers's running store, and joined the Greater Boston Track Club's squadron of blacktop aces. Now, the most versatile runner of his day, from mile to steeplechase to 10K to 20K, was primed for an assault on the most famous 26.2-miler of them all.

Meyer had run Boston two years earlier, led midway through, then came apart and ended up 11th. "I got smacked around significantly in the hills by [winner Toshihiko Seko]," recalls Meyer, who acknowledged after that race that he'd been kidding himself to think he could win.

By 1983, though, he was the clear favorite, seasoned and fit and prepped well for the quirky, treacherous course by coach Bill Squires. But midway through it was Durden up front and pulling away, with Meyer back in the pack. "I didn't think Benji would be the one driving the race," says Meyer.

Yet Durden, apparently peeved at not being listed by the local press as a contender, was on a quest that was both professional and personal. "Benji and I had a history," says Meyer, "and it wasn't a friendly history."

While startled at Durden's pace coming out of Wellesley, Meyer wasn't worried. "He was running so much faster than he had ever shown before," Meyer says. "I never felt he got so far ahead that I couldn't reel him back in."

Even after he began closing the gap on Durden, the man Meyer was worried about was Rodgers, his teammate and the four-time victor. "I was looking over my shoulder for Bill," he says. But once Meyer shook Durden in the hills, there was no reason to look back again.

It was the best race Meyer had ever, or would ever, run. A month later, he broke his foot while training and missed the world championships. "It was the beginning of a downward spiral of chronic injuries," says Meyer, who's back in town this weekend to observe the 20th anniversary of his victory.

A year later, Meyer was sitting pretty with 6 miles to go in the Olympic trials, until a hamstring acted up. "I looked around at 20 miles and said, 'I'm on the team' ," he recalls. "A mile later, I was hobbling. God gives you some things, but not everything."

Meyer took another shot at Olympus in 1988, but finished eighth in the trials. Then, after qualifying for the 1992 trials, he chose not to go. "All three of my kids had their tonsils out the week before," Meyer says. "My wife said, 'You're not going to win, you're not going.' And she was right. I didn't need one more T-shirt from an Olympic trials."

So Meyer called it a career, content to be probably the only man to run a 2:09 marathon, a sub-4:00 mile, and break 80 on a golf course. He ran Boston once more, a decade after his triumph, and took his time about it. When he laces up now, it's for fun. "Would I have traded winning Boston for making an Olympic team? No, I wouldn't," says Meyer, now 47 and working in the University of Michigan's development office. "Would I have traded winning Boston for a gold medal? Possibly."

This story ran on page F3 of the Boston Globe on 4/18/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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