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Local stations keep pace

By Howard Manly, Globe Staff, 04/20/99

ocal coverage of the Boston Marathon captured the spectacle of a world-class event.

There were plenty of stories and plenty of time, as Channels 5 and 7 began coverage yesterday at 9 a.m. and Channel 4 stayed with the race until 4 p.m.

The most compelling drama of the day was the women's wheelchair race, eventually won by two-time defending champion Louise Sauvage, who edged seven-time winner Jean Driscoll, though both were timed in 1:42:23.

The moment of the day belonged to Fatuma Roba and the Ethiopian well-wishers who gave her a headband in the colors of her nation's flag. She wore it as she raced to her third straight victory.

All of the major story lines were covered well, but it was impossible for each station to capture every moment. Channel 7 executive producer Frank Schorr said he kept an eye on about 75 monitors throughout the race. ''It's a lot of yelling and screaming,'' Schorr said. ''Everything is all on the fly.''

The pictures that viewers see depend on the whims of local producers. For example, Channel 5 was all over Bill Rodgers. When the four-time champion dropped out at Heartbreak Hill, Channel 5 reporter Anthony Everett had the first word, though the initial report was sketchy.

''We don't know what happened,'' Everett said. ''But he seems fine. He was talkative and is now being treated by medical officials.''

As it turned out, Rodgers was suffering from a head cold, and even though he drank water, he became dehydrated and lightheaded.

''I tried to keep myself hydrated,'' Rodgers, 51, told Channel 5. ''I thought I could set a [veterans] record. But it wasn't my day.''

While Channel 5 had the Rodgers report, Channels 4 and 7 stayed with the women's race. Roba had just crossed the finish line. She caught the surprising Sun Yingjie of China near the halfway point and never looked back.

Yingjie bolted out of the blocks with an unusual running style - her arms by her side, prompting Channel 7's Gene Lavanchy to quip that she looked like she was carrying luggage.

But she was on a record pace.

Channel 5 analyst Joan Benoit Samuelson said it was very unusual to see a woman running alone so early in the race.

''She is just running away with it,'' said Samuelson, who also explained that Yingjie may have been allowing her arms to rest a bit when she let them flop by her side.

''You really don't need your arms when running downhill,'' Samuelson said. ''You use them as pistons when running uphill.''

Either way, Yingjie was running so fast that none of the commentators believed she could maintain the pace.

''She's running much too fast,'' said Tony Reavis on Channel 7. ''She's making an enormous mistake.''

Only Uta Pippig on Channel 4 gave her the thumbs-up: ''If she is feeling great, then why not take the risk?''

Yingjie did take the risk, and lost. She was not near the finish line when Roba crossed, winding up 11th.

Of the three Boston stations, Channel 7 was the only one to have the women's second-place finisher, Switzerland's Franziska Rochat-Moser, who came in more than two minutes behind Roba.

Despite a lot of prerace hype, the local stations didn't overemphasize Lynn Jennings, who finished 11th overall (first American woman) and accomplished her goal of qualifying for the Olympics, but was never a factor.

Nor did they give much attention to men's defending champion Moses Tanui, who dropped out near the 23-mile mark, apparently bothered by leg cramps. Channel 4's Bob Lobel tried to interview Tanui via telephone, but technical problems foiled the attempt.

The drama in the men's race came when Ecuadoran Silvio Guerra opened a lead of nearly a quarter-mile between Miles 17 and 22. The TV analysts suggested that his training in Colorado helped him with the hilly course.

But Guerra couldn't keep men's winner Joseph Chebet behind him. Chebet took the lead for good just past 22 miles.

In what Lobel characterized as ''total domination,'' Franz Nietlispach of Switzerland won the men's wheelchair race by nearly four minutes.

Though Pippig was working as an analyst, she also was the subject of a news story. Lobel interviewed the three-time Boston champion about her suspension from competition by the German federation. Pippig has passed 60 drug tests in the last four years but failed one last year.

A steroid biology expert told Lobel that Pippig has a bowel disease that may have caused the abnormality on the flunked test. Pippig denied taking steroids and said she was sick when the test was administered.

Pippig added that jealousy could be a possible motive, ''maybe not in the beginning, but later on, yes.''

Either way, Pippig said she did not want to represent her country in the Olympics ''because of the way they treated me - it was too low.''

This story ran on page F10 of the Boston Globe on 04/20/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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