To put things in mathematical terms, Toshihiko Seko and Rosa Mota multiplied their talents to a next higher power than any of their rivals in the 91st running of the Boston Marathon. But if these winners were the guideposts, a couple of miscalculations at the very start of the race were the earmarks. The event historically gets off without a hitch, but this time a pair of dangerous incidents reminded everyone of the need for caution and alertness.
The traditional noontime start from Hopkinton's town center was marked by confusion when the starter jumped the gun, firing his blank pistol before two officials, a policeman, and a restraining rope were out of the way.
The engulfed individuals somehow extracted themselves from the stampeding herd. Defending men's champion Rob de Castella of Australia avoided serious trouble, too, when, after tripping on the rope, he bounced up from the pavement and set sail for the front-runners.
``You have no choice,'' he said after finishing sixth, ``You either get trampled by about 10,000 runners or you try to get back with the leaders.''
In fact, there were about 6,000 in the Boston field, which is still an unwieldy number given anything but a flawless start. A 30-seconds-to-blastoff announcement, with no second-by-second countdown thereafter, is surely a procedure the Boston Athletic Association must rethink in the future.
In the wheelchair event, begun 15 minutes before the main race, six entrants were involved in a chaotic chain reaction of spills on the opening downhill section of the 26-mile, 385-yard course. No one was seriously injured, and in a testament to the determination of this group of competitors, two actually went on to finish first in their respective divisions.
Canadian Andre Viger, who was helped back into his chair by onlookers, was the men's winner for a third time, and Candace Cable-Brookes, who spent nearly seven minutes fixing a flat tire, won her fifth women's title.
Jim Knaub, who said it was his miscalculation in changing direction that caused the collisions, vigorously claimed wheelchair-racing safety is the best it's ever been and that the relatively minor consequences of Monday's serious-looking mishap proved as much. Here too, however, race organizers surely will scrutinize the start, which might be less of a high-speed chase on flat ground. Once everyone was off and running (or rolling) toward Boston, a persistent headwind served to invisibly brake the thousands of entrants. No course records would be broken on this cool, gray day, which was so soupy that helicopters normally used in televising the race were grounded.
The slow pace dictated a tactical battle, at least among a deep men's field that probably brought together the best talent since the 1984 Olympics.
Besides Seko, who has now won eight of his last nine marathons, it included Tanzania's Juma Ikangaaa and de Castella, Nos. 1 and 2 in last year's world rankings, and Great Britain's Steve Jones, the former world record holder. Among them, they had broken the 2 hour, 10 minute barrier 18 times. Throw in Geoff Smith, a two-time Boston winner, and John Treacy, the Olympic silver medalist who had spent 11 months preparing for this race, and things shaped as a dogfight with a capital ``D.''
And that's just what occurred, with a pack of a dozen or so runners clicking off two-thirds of the course in virtual unison. But with a little more than six miles to go, Seko increased the tempo going up Heartbreak Hill, and when no one responded he did it again, widening a 100-yard lead to 350 yards. Thereafter he was able to coast to a 47-second victory over Jones in a time of 2:11:50, more than 4:30 off the world record, but still a powerful performance that was actually faster over the course's notoriously challenging second half.
Form clearly held in the women's race, where Mota was the strong favorite after assorted factors conspired to keep such top runners as Ingrid Kristiansen, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Lorraine Moller out of competition.
Portugal's 99-pound Olympic bronze medalist, whose name almost suggests a rose in motion, led from the outset and pulled farther and farther away, until she crossed the finish line in 2:25:21, the 10th best women's time ever and more than four minutes faster than runner-up Agnes Pardaens of Belgium.
Along with Seko, she collected a $40,000 winner's check and a Mercedes valued at some $30,000.
As lucrative as these prizes may be, even bigger payoffs are reportedly made to the top runners just for appearing, some supposedly in six figures. If this has become a modern fact of life in the corporately sponsored world of big-time marathoning, at least one cherished symbol of a purely amateur day was competing once again.
Johnny ``The Elder'' Kelley, 79, ran in his 56th Boston Marathon and, despite stopping a few times, completed the distance in 4:19:56 to better his times of the two previous years. Kelley, a Cape Cod resident whose nickname distinguishes him from another former champion with the same name, is such a popular race-day celebrity that many spectators wait for him to go by before returning home.