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A stunning push near finish makes Pippig three-time champ

Men's Winner:Time:
M. Tanui, Kenya 2:09:16
Women's Winner:Time:
U. Pippig, Germany2:27:13
Men's Wheelchair WinnerTime:
H. Frei, Switzerland1:30:11
Women's Wheelchair WinnerTime:
J. Driscoll, United States1:52:54

By Dan Shaughnessy, Globe Staff

HOPKINTON TO BOSTON -- Could she be just a little more gracious, courageous, intelligent and charming? Is that possible?

Uta Pippig says all the right things, smiles at the right times and takes time to credit her rivals while applauding all competitors. And where is it written that anybody is allowed to look so good and fresh after running 26 miles with cramps and diarrhea?

1996 Men's and Women's champions Uta Pippig (l) and Moses Tanui. (Globe Staff Photo / Frank O'Brien)
This was a day when the backyard of Hopkinton High School was transformed into a road runner's Woodstock. It was a day when the 26 miles between Hopkinton and Copley Square became a tunnel of love and Gatorade stands. It was a day when almost 40,000 people attempted to run a marathon -- and most of them finished.

But let the record show that it was a female medical student from Germany who ruled the day as Boston celebrated 100 years of marathons with the grandest race in human history.

Overcoming intestinal difficulties and a 220-meter deficit after Heartbreak Hill, Pippig outfinished Kenya's Tegla Loroupe and won her third consecutive Boston Marathon in a time of 2 hours 27 minutes 12 seconds. She joins Clarence DeMar, Tarzan Brown, Johnny Kelley and Bill Rodgers in the pantheon of Boston favorites. Boston loves Uta.

``It was like the whole city was on its legs,'' said Pippig, who claimed a record winner's purse of $100,000. ``And I want to thank every person on the course today.

``I thought I could not catch Tegla. She was too far away. But some energy came back and I was flying. I think it was the crowd and the smell to win even with the little problems I had.''

Little problems. There is no delicate way to put this. Pippig had female issues at the worst possible time. She was in pain. She was a mess. And she thought about dropping out of the race.

``I had some problems with my period,'' Pippig said shyly. ``I didn't expect it would become this worse . . . diarrhea. I felt not nice so I used a lot of water around me so that I look better and also for my legs that I could clean it up a bit.''

It can't be easy to stay the course when you are exposed in this manner before television cameras and hundreds of thousands of spectators. Vanity is one thing. Dignity is another. And then there's pain.

``After 4 miles, I was thinking several times to drop out because it hurt so much,'' she said. ``But in the end, I won.''

She won because she found something to keep her going after Heartbreak Hill. And she won because Loroupe developed leg cramps and could not hold the lead.

The images are vivid. Running down Beacon Street, Pippig was gaining on Loroupe as the two ran toward Kenmore. Without breaking stride, Pippig grabbed a water bottle, ripped the plastic yellow top with her teeth, tossed the cap to the pavement, then took a sip. She kept running and gulped again. She raised the bottle to her lips for one final drink, gaining ground with each step.

Her thirst quenched, Pippig spiked the bottle to the ground, then sped past Loroupe like a Miata passing an 18-wheeler on an uphill grade of Route 495. The folks near Kenmore roared. She had made up 30 seconds in less than a mile.

Pippig mugged for the camera, looking wild and wide-eyed. She was Carlton Fisk after clanging a homer off the left-field foul pole. She was Larry Bird after stealing Isiah Thomas' pass to beat the Pistons. She was Bobby Orr flying through the air after beating the St. Louis Blues to win the Stanley Cup.

``It was amazing for me because so many people screamed even when it was not possible to win anymore,'' said Pippig. ``They said, `You can catch her.' And I said, `Come on, guys, it is such a big gap.' It was like a connection between us and I just started fighting and I imagined I could fly.''

Smiling through the pain, Pippig flew across the finish line. Then she did what she always does in Boston. She blew kisses.

It somehow seemed appropriate that that woman's race would provide the signature moment of the oversized, centennial event. Thirty years ago women could not run Boston, and as recently as 1980 a fraudulent female claimed victory while nobody was paying attention.

``I thought a lot about so many women who can start in this race,'' said Pippig. ``I feel good about it. It's equal now. Men and women can run together and it's much nicer now. Everyone should have the same right to do anything.

``It is a special thing, this Boston Marathon.''