Smith, Moller seek Olympic passage with Boston Marathon wins
Running shoes were not the only things well laced for the 88th Boston Marathon. The sky was laced with rain and the traditional Patriots Day race with a more than a little irony.
On a day when homage is paid to Paul Revere and his Revolutionary War compatriots, word rang out around the Back Bay finish line that a British runner was coming - and there would be no stopping him.
Geoff Smith, a former fireman from Liverpool, answered the starter's gun as though responding to a five-alarmer, bolting the 26 miles, 385 yards to Boston's Prudential Center in 2 hours, 10 minutes, and 34 seconds. His time was more than two minutes off the course record, but a notable achievement on a day when biting winds and chilling rains made for what Jock Semple called the ''worst weather'' in his 50-year association with the race.
Smith still finished seeming light years ahead of the other 7,000 runners, with Connecticut's Gerry Vanasse taking second some three minutes later.
The women's race was just as one-sided, with New Zealand's Lorraine Moller taking the lead on Heartbreak Hill and then cruising home in 2:29:28, far ahead of second-place finisher Midde Hamrin of Sweden yet hardly a record.
So Patriots Day and the noble efforts of Boston Mayor Ray Flynn (a 4:23:54 finisher) notwithstanding, Monday's theme was the Empire Strikes Back, to use the empirical reference loosely. As happens every four years, the top American runners were taking a leave of absence, opting to train for next month's US Olympic trials (the women's in Olympia, Wash. May 12 and the men's in Buffalo May 26) and potential greater national glory this summer.
Defending champions Greg Meyer and Joan Benoit weren't even on hand, nor were such former Boston champions as Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar.
In a sense, therefore, the Boston race was a generic brands event as far as Americans went, with relative unknowns Vanasse and Sissel Grottenburg of Oregon (third among the women) making the best efforts for the native population.
Whatever allure Boston lacked for America's running creme de la creme, it offered to some top-notch foreigners, who are subject to a different Olympic selection process.
Whereas the US determines its Olympians in an all-or-nothing race, other countries pick their marathoners on the basis of who turns in the best efforts within a specified period.
For a strong contingent of New Zealand women, however, the Boston Marathon assumed heightened importance as the last race considered in choosing that country's female competitors for the inaugural women's Olympic marathon.
Moller's main rival appeared to be fellow New Zealander Allison Roe, the Boston champion in 1981 and a former world record holder. Roe held a sizeable lead over the 27-year-old Moller well into the race, but was overtaken at the 19 -mile mark as Lorraine capitalized on three months of hill training back home in Pataruru to catch up and pull away.
With a personal best time, she is assured an Olympic berth, but Roe's status vis-a-vis Los Angeles is uncertain after curtailing her Hopkinton-to-Boston journey for the second straight year.
Moller, who trained occasionally with Roe and felt she could beat her by running a smart race, is certainly no newcomer to the winner's circle. In fact, she has now won 11 of 14 career marathons, exhibiting the kind of consistency that led to her No. 2 world ranking behind Roe in 1981.
A competent middle distance runner, she is a 3,000-meter Olympic candidate as well, having taken 14th at that distance in last summer's world track and field championships.
Smith also is adept on the track. He was a member of the 1980 British Olympic team in the 10,000 meters and owns a 4-minute mile, a rarity for a marathoner.
Actually he earned the latter label relatively recently with a dramatic second-place finish in last October's New York City Marathon. New Zealand's Rod Dixon had to charge down through Central Park to beat him.
Smith's time of 2:09:08 was the fastest ever for a first-time mara-thoner. To prove to British Olympic selectors, however, that the effort was no fluke Smith needed to turn in another good time. The logical occasion for such an effort seemed the upcoming London Marathon, yet the 30-year-old Providence College senior risked alienating British officials by running Boston instead. By winning with a good time, though, he virtually assured himself of an Olympic berth, a task accomplished with no real competition for miles.