Foot soldiers in Iraq form a Marathon division
Sometimes the stars and the satellite dishes line up for a television production.
When Outdoor Life Network obtained the national TV rights for this year's Boston Marathon, Marc Fein, the network's senior vice president of programming and production, wanted to add a military element to the coverage.
"I'd read about our troops running a marathon in Afghanistan in the past and wondered if there was something similar we could do in Iraq," Fein said. "It seemed so appropriate with the race being on Patriots Day. Then, in talking with the Boston Athletic Association and Clear Channel [the BAA's television distribution coordinator], we learned not only that something was happening, but also that the BAA already was all over it."
Naturally, the bulk of the OLN coverage will concentrate on Boston and its separate races: men (noon start), women (11:31 a.m. start), and wheelchairs (11:25 a.m. start). But there will be segments on the "Boston Marathon/Iraq" being run at Base Camp Adder, the former Tallil Airbase in Southern Iraq. It was the creation of Capt. Rodney Freeman of the 1-172 Field Artillery of the New Hampshire National Guard, which is stationed at the base.
So let him tell the story.
"I was assigned as the MWR officer for the post. That's morale, welfare, and recreation," said Captain Freeman, whose nickname on the base is "Captain Fun." "My job is getting people's minds off what's outside the wire where they go on patrols and convoys.
"I'm a runner, and we've had a monthly road race on the base, 5Ks and 10Ks. I've run marathons and thought it would be a good event to do here. So I sold my boss on the idea.
"The original concept was that if we could get six people, it would be a success."
That led to picking a date. Patriots Day was obvious, especially to a runner from New England. Freeman lives in York, Maine, with his wife Missy and four children, Jerrod, Gibson, and twins Orrin and Mary. "They'll all be watching," he said. "I sent an e-mail to Jack Fleming at the BAA, saying, `Hey, we're going to be doing our race the same day as you guys.' The response couldn't have been more overwhelming. He e-mailed right back. The BAA sent us official runners' medals and reprinted Boston Marathon finishers' certificates, changing the name to `The Boston Marathon in Iraq.' The support from back home has been simply phenomenal."
As in Boston, there's tradition on the course Freeman has laid out. One loop of the 26.2-mile course goes by the Ziggurat of Ur, the best preserved of the 4,000-year-old temple-towers in the Middle East.
"It's on our base but in a part of the post people can't run in normally," he said.
From Freeman's modest goal of six runners, an international event has grown involving coalition forces from Britain, Italy, and Romania. "We've got 53 individuals who plan to run the entire distance," he said, "and another 184 who are running on four-person relay teams."
Where there's a tailwind at the start of the Boston race and a headwind in the latter stages, there's likely to be just heat in Iraq.
"We're not technically in a desert," he said, "but it's all wasteland. There are no trees. Lately, it's been in the high 90s so temperatures likely will be over 100 degrees on the course."
And at the finish line? "The BAA sent us an official finish-line ribbon," said Captain Fun. OLN viewers should see it broken tomorrow. The network's coverage is from 11:30 a.m. to at least 2:30 p.m. Locally, the race will be on Channel 4 from 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. and Channel 5 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
The Boston Marathon will be televised in 176 countries, including SporTV (Brazil), Eurosport, Supersport (Africa), and Zee Sports (India). It also will be carried over the American Forces Network, meaning the participants in Iraq will be able to tune in (given the eight-hour time difference) and see the coverage of their race. OLN plans to have soldiers send greetings home and folks at home send greetings to their loved ones in Iraq . . . Things have come a long way since WGBH (Channel 2) sent the Marathon around the country in 1979 and 1980 with Bud Collins, Kathrine Switzer, and Larry Rawson at the mikes . . . For those who can't get OLN's feed, there are other ways to follow the race nationally. WBZ radio has begun streaming its audio 24 hours a day. Its race coverage goes from 11:15 a.m. until approximately 2:30 p.m. Sports director Gil Santos will be calling the finish of the race for the 35th consecutive year. The BAA offers two ways to track the race. Veteran runner/journalists James O'Brien and Barbara Huebner will write running stories on the men's and women's races for the BAA's website (accessible via www.bostonmarathon.org or www.baa.org) . . . Kudos to balladeer Terry Cashman, who called WEEI's "The Big Show" Wednesday afternoon to confront some of the folks who'd been bashing him on the air for two days. The biggest disappointments were hearing Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino and Channel 7's Wendi Nix join the on-air bullying. From a TV watcher's viewpoint, Cashman's effort wasn't going to win any Grammys, but it turned out to be the only mention of many of the Sox old-timers who thought enough of Monday's flag-raising ceremonies to be on hand . . . Kudos, too, to the ESPN editors who caught Peter Gammons's failure to credit material he'd picked up from the Los Angeles Times and pulled the items in question from ESPN.com. In this age of information bouncing from website to website in mere minutes and "cut and paste" technology, it illustrates not only how easily such errors can occur but also that ESPN is applying journalistic integrity to its site . . . ESPN's "Outside The Lines" at 9:30 this morning has what promises to be a fascinating personal account by Jeremy Schaap of his quest to learn more about one-time chess champion Bobby Fischer. Schaap's father, journalist Dick Schaap, had befriended the young Fischer back in the 1950s. Their relationship deteriorated as Fischer became anti-American and anti-Semitic, something the young Schaap encountered at a news conference in Iceland last month when Fischer made bigoted remarks about Schaap's father.
Bill Griffith's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org