The rehabbed Boston Marathon is back, yanked up by its shoelaces after being down at the heels as a magnet for top runners. Though the race has virtually been bankrupt of big-name competitors the last couple years, two of the best not only entered this week's 90th annual running, but wore the laurel wreaths at the Copley Plaza finish line. When Australia's Rob de Castella and Norway's Ingrid Kristiansen broke the tape, officials of the Boston Athletic Association must have sensed the same ``back in business'' satisfaction Lee Iacocca felt watching Chrysler Imperials come off the assembly line.
Figuratively, of course, the Boston event was just starting into business, offering prize money and a form of appearance fees for the first time after finally giving up as a bastion of lily-white amateurism.
Financial incentives are required ``carrots'' for today's top-drawer, long-distance rabbits, and an ambitious new sponsor happily dangled the green stuff needed for a top-quality field and fast times.
De Castella took home the most loot: $30,000 for winning; an additional $30,000 for performance bonuses (including a new course record); a Mercedes; and in all probability many thousands more for representing the sponsor and participating in race-related running clinics in an ingenious appearance arrangement.
The haul was achieved with a running tour de force that saw the metronomic de Castella become only the third runner in history to break the 2 hour, 8 minute barrier, with a 2:07:51 clocking. It was a personal best that slashed 61 seconds off Alberto Salazar's old Boston mark and blew the wheels off the rest of a supposedly deep and talented field.
Second-place finisher Art Boileau, a John McEnroe look-alike from Canada who now lives in the distance-running hotbed of Eugene, Ore., was about 3 minutes behind the Canberra resident. It marked the first time an Aussie had won, a breakthrough that will surely be saluted ``down under'' much as that country's yachting triumph was in the 1983 America's Cup races off Newport, R.I.
Kristiansen's victory margin was equally overwhelming, as she cruised in ahead of Carla Beurskens of the Netherlands by roughly 2 minutes. She was disappointed in her performance, however, because on a cool, overcast day well suited to good times, her 2:24:55 fell well short of breaking Joan Benoit Samuelson's course record (2:22:43), her own world best (2:21:06), and the elusive 2:20 barrier.
Kristiansen, owner of three of the top six women's marathon efforts of all time and the only female to hold 5,000- meter, 10,000-meter, and marathon records simultaneously, had wanted to become the first woman to complete the distance under 2:20.
She had also committed herself to run Boston expecting a head-to-head showdown with Benoit Samuelson, a local hero whose husband is getting his MBA at Babson College outside Boston. The race's 1979 and '83 champion is rounding into condition after an injury, though, and spent Monday as a marathon TV analyst rather than a competitor.
As a result, Kristiansen couldn't match strides with Benoit Samuelson, who beat Ingrid in the '84 Olympics and America's Marathon in Chicago in their only head-to-head encounters. She likes racing the clock, anyhow, and checked her watch at various checkpoints more often than a Long Island commuter. She slowed down coming over the hills in Newton, though, and had to settle for maintaining her sizable lead.
Somewhat ironically, her time was one second slower than that turned in just the day before in the London Marathon by Norwegian countrywoman Grete Waitz, whose long athletic shadow has been until recent years hard for Kristiansen to outrun. Waitz dropped out of Boston in her only time in the race, and has no interest in returning since the many, taxing downhill stretches don't agree with her.
For de Castella, the Boston victory reestablished his name in the marathoning spotlight that he dominated the first four years of this decade. He set a world record in Fukuoka, Japan , won the world championship in Helsinki in '83, and entered the '84 Los Angeles Olympics as the favorite. He finished fifth, though, and his star has been somewhat eclipsed since.
Even in his debut, de Castella found Boston a perfect place to notch his latest big victory, since his extensive hill training and thick, shock-absorbing thighs were custom-made for running on the many downgrades.
He and Kristiansen wore No. 1 on their jerseys, and for obvious reasons judging from their wire-to-wire wins.
Where form didn't hold, delightfully enough for fans of four-time Boston winner Bill Rodgers, was in the fourth-place finish of this local favorite. Rodgers, the 38-year-old Arnold Palmer of marathoning, said he took ``fourth by default,'' a belittling remark that obscures the wealth of experience he used to pick off many early front-runners, clock a 2:13:36, and become the top American finisher.
In inspirational performances, Canada's Andre Viger set a new wheelchair record with a time of 1:43:25, and 78-year-old Johnny Kelley completed his 55th Boston Marathon in 4 hours, 27 minutes.