Kopacs at NY Marathon finish line
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Lynne in NYC

Kopac's Corner

2006 Boston Marathon Photo Op -- 3D

by Bob Kopac

For the 3rd year in a row Freddi Carlip of Runner's Gazette Magazine offered me the Photo Bridge assignment above the Boston Marathon finish line. This time I wanted to do it all, so I booked 4 nights in Boston. The following is a rundown of my full-dimensional Boston Marathon Weekend experience.

Lynne and I drove to Framingham, MA and took the train into Back Bay. Driving in Boston is high on my list of Things to Avoid. Besides, imagine driving a car with New York plates in Boston and Im not a Yankees fan!

On Saturday morning Lynne and I attended the Champions Breakfast at the Fairmont Copley Hotel where, keeping my Boston tradition alive, I again stalked Kathrine Switzer. A couple of minutes later Lynne went over to say hello, so Kathrine endured tag-team stalkarazzi. Kathrine, as usual, was very gracious. I noticed that she had a copy of her new book 26.2 Marathon Stories, which I had heard was excellent. I meant to buy a copy from her, but I never saw her again, except during her race day television commentary. I guess I will have to I stalk her again in July at the Utica Boilermaker.

During the breakfast, I talked with Rdiger Otto, the representative for the real,- Berlin Marathon. I asked why the marathon was called the real Berlin Marathon. Was there a fake Berlin Marathon? He replied that the race sponsor was the REAL (pronounced Ree-al) corporation. He told me there would be 8,000 inline skaters on Saturday the day before the marathon, and on Sunday, September 24th, there would be 40,000 marathoners.

Then the speeches began. The theme of race director Dave McGillvrays talk was Change. He said, The first change I helped make on the very first day [as race director] was the year after the famous tripping of the rope, if you will, in Hopkinton. They asked me to come in and help out a little bit. What I did was remove the rope. [Laughter]

Dave then discussed the reason for the new 2-wave start (noon and 12:30 PM): Mainly because of one thing, and one thing only: space. Space is an issue We have 25 feet of roadway up in Hopkinton to line up 22,500 people. We cant bulldoze the town, [laughter] so we have to look outside the box and get a little bit creative.

Dave said the change necessitated scoring by net time instead of gun time and doubling the size of the athletes village. He then said, There is a slight course change. We are going under the Mass Ave overpass. So we have reached sort of a new low in the sense that the lowest point is 1 foot below sea level at that part right there. No, we did not relocate Heartbreak Hill. [Laughter] Its a decline and an incline It will be an important strategic point in the race.

Honored at the breakfast were this years top contenders: 2005 winner Hailu Negussie of Ethiopia, Reiko Tosa of Japan, and 5-time wheel chair champion Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa. Ernst said, When I was first coming out here, people were always saying, Come to Boston, youll get a fast time, it is an easy course. [Laughter] It might be easy at times, but there are some really hard sections in the race that hit you when you least expect it, like Heartbreak Hill. Now the race director has thrown in another little incline. [Laughter]

Also recognized was Bobbi Gibbs. Although women were not allowed officially to run in the Boston Marathon until 1972, Bobbi ran as a bandit and was the unofficial female winner in 1966, 1967, and 1968. She would be the starter of the elite womens race on Monday. This time she would not have to hide in the bushes before the start of the race.

This years grand marshal was Jack Fultz, the winner of the 1976 Boston Marathon called the Run for the Hoses because the race temperature was 100 degrees. Jack said, Ive been practicing my wave. [Laughter] I became the answer to one of the Trivial Pursuit questions Dave McGillvray has a unique and novel way of continuing his string of about 35 [Boston] marathons After he starts the race, and runs the daily operations, he goes back out to Hopkinton and runs his own marathon ... So I offered to join him [As they approached the finish line] I stepped behind Dave and let him run on through the finish line to get the recognition he deserved. Inadvertently in the process, because we were still official runners, I became the last place official finisher. So now I am a pair of bookends, I guess the only person who was first and last in the Boston Marathon. [Laughter]

The breakfast also celebrated the anniversaries of several other Boston champions, including 8-time female wheelchair champion Jean Driscoll, 3-time female winner Uta Pippig, 2-time victor Moses Tanui, 2-time female winner and 1986 Olympic champion Joan Benoit Samuelson, and 1946 winner Stylianos Kyriakides of Greece. His son Dmitri thanked the Boston Athletics Association (B.A.A.) for honoring his father by erecting a statue of Stylianos at the 1-mile mark on the course.

Keizo Yamada of Japan, who won in 1953, would be running in Mondays marathon. He talked for quite a while. After Mr. Yamada finished, Tom Grilk, the president of the B.A.A. Board of Governors, said, We dont have a lot of people who speak at this [breakfast], but anybody here, if you win, and then come back 53 years later, talk all you want. [Laughter] [Note: 78-year-old Keizo Yamada finished this years race in 4:16:07.]

The highpoint of the breakfast for me was the accolades for Dick and Rick Hoyt Team Hoyt. Dick would be pushing his son Rick in a wheelchair for the 25th time at Boston.

After the breakfast, I encountered Ernst Van Dyk. He told me that he had just heard that it might rain on the day of the marathon, which he said would be a concern for the wheelchair athletes.

Later that afternoon I attended a press reception for the inauguration of the World Marathon Majors (WMM) Series. Athletes receive points for placing in the top 5 positions in 5 major marathons (Boston, Berlin, Chicago, London, and New York), as well as in the IAAF World Championships Marathon and the Olympic Marathon over a 2-year period. The top male and female winners receive $500,000 each, more if the WMM lands a major sponsor. Perhaps the motto should be, Offer it, and they will come.

Now I can say I ran Boston. No, not the Boston Marathon, but the B.A.A. 2.8-mile Freedom Run on Sunday, which is free. To get a T-shirt, all you have to do is sign up right before the race. The course runs through the streets of Boston, past the Cheers pub, and on part of the Freedom Trail. I passed a brownstone where the owners were using running shoes as flower pots. When I saw the giant Citgo sign in the distance, I knew I was near the end of the race. I crossed the Boston Marathon finish line to cheers -- as did everyone else. As it was Easter Sunday, the post-race food tent featured yellow marshmallow Peeps.

Later that day, during a conversation with a jogger in the Fairmont Copley Hotel lobby, I showed him my Photo Bridge credentials. I then told him my old joke that, since I had to give my social security number to get the credentials, I now know that the B.A.A. uses identity theft to pay for prize money. That is when I learned the jogger was Peter Morrissey, a member of the B.A.A. Board of Governors. Apparently he did not take offense, for he then recommended I see the Tiffany stained windows in Trinity Church as well as visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which he said was a Boston gem. Perhaps he was thanking me for such a good suggestion for the B.A.A.?

Monday dawned, and the rain was now predicted to hold off until late that evening. The weather was perfect for the runners. Unlike the heat of the past 2 Boston Marathons, the high would be in the upper 50s and partly cloudy, perfect for the 22,517 entrants, the second-most runners in Boston history.

From my spot on the Photo Bridge, I was able to photograph Ernst Van Dyk as he easily won his 6th straight Boston Marathon wheelchair race in 1:25:29. The vivacious Edith Hunkeler of Switzerland became a 2-time champion in the womens wheelchair race in 1:43:42.

This year the womens race was wide open since Catherine Ndereba, the 4-time champion and winner the past 2 years, could not run Boston this year. Marathoners are not allowed to run the Boston Marathon if they have run a marathon within 90 days, and Catherine had run the Osaka Marathon 78 days ago. Reiko Tosa, favored to win the race, led much of the way. The announcer conjectured that this strategy was expending her energy and might hurt her later in the race, since Reiko was not taking advantage of running in the pack and allowing other runners to block the wind. Eventually Reiko was caught and ended in third place in a time of 2:24:11. Rita Jeptoo of Kenya won in 2:23:38, finishing 10 seconds ahead of Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia in the closest womens race in Bostons history.

On the mens side, Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya set a new course record of 2:07:14, breaking the 1994 course record of Cosmas Ndeti of Kenya by one second. Benjamin Maiyo of Kenya finished second in 2:08:21.

Sound familiar, Kenyans dominating the Boston Marathon? Well, amazingly the story of this years race was the performance of the Americans. The next 3 finishers were Americans: Meb Keflezighi in 2:09:56, Brian Sell of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project in 2:10:55, and Alan Culpepper in 2:11:02. Next came Kenjiru Jitsui of Japan in 2:11:32, followed by American Peter Gilmore of the Nike Farm Team in 2:12:45. In fact, 8 of the top 15 finishers were Americans, and the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project team won the team competition.

On a local angle, I photographed Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club (MHRRC) member Mike Slinskey as he crossed the finish line. As Mike ran down Boylston Street, he pumped his arms in the air to get a reaction from the crowd, and the crowd responded. His spouse had told me a few days before the race that Mike had thought his training runs had been inconsistent and that he had no idea what his time would be. However, based on Mikes 38th place finishing time of 2:27:52, it was evident that Mike had done phenomenally well.

At the race awards ceremony, Moses Tanui led a contingent of fellow countrymen in cheering and waving their national flag whenever a Kenyan athlete received an award; they were able to cheer many times.

Afterwards I decided against attending the post-race party at the Roxy and the Matrix; I figured the only dance the tired marathoners could do was the Robot. Instead, Lynne and I had dinner with running friends from Lancaster, New Hampshire, including Lynn Mueller who once again finished the Boston Marathon wearing pink Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon wings.

On Tuesday morning as we stood on the platform to catch the train back to Framingham, we listened to the cacophonous rush-hour traffic on the adjacent highway as we breathed the overwhelming exhaust fumes. Fortunately, we did not have to wait long. Arriving back in Framingham, I found that, contrary to my fears, our car with New York plates was unmolested. It was a happy ending to my full-dimensional Boston Marathon Weekend experience.