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Wheelchair preview: Expect two close races

By Bob Monahan, Globe Staff, 16/04/99

Franz Nietlispach has won the Boston Marathon men's wheelchair division the last two years. The Swiss racer could very well make it three straight on Monday.

''Franz is a great marathon racer, and I understand he's in good shape,'' said Belmont's Bob Hall, the pioneer of Boston's wheelchair divisions. ''When he comes to race, he's the factor to beat. But you have to respect Krige Schabort, who was second last year, and Saul Mendoza, who was third.''

Schabort does an excellent job climbing the many hills along the Boston course. And Mendoza has been hot - he's won every major race since Boston last year. Mendoza raised more than a few eyebrows when he won at Los Angeles, beating world record-holder Heinz Frei. (Frei isn't racing Boston, even though this is where he set his mark of 1:21:23 in 1994.)

In last year's race, Nietlispach won in 1:21:52, a personal best. Schabort also recorded a personal best (1:26:37), as did Mendoza (1:26:38).

Said Hall, who in 1975 became the first wheelchair athlete to officially race at Boston: ''It couldn't be closer among the leaders.''

The same might be said of the women's division, which shapes up as a potential duel between two-time defending champion Louise Sauvage of Australia and Jean Driscoll of Champaign, Ill., who won seven straight from 1990-96.

''Louise and Jean are excellent,'' said Hall, ''but also keep an eye on Edith Hunkeler of Switzerland and Chantal Petitclerc from Quebec. These ladies are good. After our marathon last spring, all four of them raced in a marathon in Switzerland and were only two seconds apart at the finish. So anything can happen here.''

At 32, Driscoll is the eldest of the quartet, with Sauvage 25, Hunkeler 26, and Petitclerc 29. But she doesn't think age will be a factor. ''I think some parts of my body slowed down a bit since the early '90s,'' she said, ''but nothing to bother me as a racer.''

A local woman could end up in the mix. Rose Winand, a 39-year-old Bostonian, will make her sixth straight start here and eighth overall. She was third in 1995.

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