Behind The Numbers
Boston Marathon Documentary Not Perfect, But Is Well Worth Watching
By Harry Hall
Ed. Note: Harry Hall is a two-time finisher of the Boston Marathon, 1980-81. In 1980, he ran 2:35, just four minutes behind women's winner, Rosie Ruiz.
(L to R) Mike Cooper, Terry Kopf, Angela Moore, and Harry Hall
"This is beyond running. This is for the Boston Strong." Meb Keflezighi, after winning the 2014 Boston Marathon.
The film, "Boston, An American Running Story," the first feature-length documentary about the Boston Marathon is a creative, almost ingenious storytelling of combining a rich history that culminates with the race's comeback after the tragic 2013 bombing (the movie was in the works when the bombing took place.)
The movie came across as one big highlight. Maybe the best race footage was 1988, when Ibrahim Hussein outkicked Juma Ikangaa for a one second victory and the actual 1967 video of Jock Semple trying to pull the number off Kathrine "KV" Switzer. My favorite segment was Tom Derderian discussing running shoes from decades' past. The sight of them caused everyone in the theater to let out a collective, "ouch."
The two-hour, twenty-minute film felt more like a 10k than a marathon, with no dead spots and spectacular music by the Boston Symphony and Matt Damon narration.
However, I'm disappointed by three omissions:
1. For decades, the Boston Marathon had no exact mile markers. Until the early to mid '70s, the six official checkpoints ranged from 6.72 miles (Framingham) to 24.14 (Brookline). I'm guessing these markers told runners they were entering the next city. While the not including creative markers aren't a major issue, but helps define the race's colorful and distinct history.
2. No mention of Ron Hill's 1970 victory. The documentary covered most of the race's significant moments, but no mention of Hill's win is disappointing. The first Brit to win the race set a course record (2:10.31) by three minutes in the rain, and his "air fist" punch as he crossed the finish line became the logo for his sports athletic apparel line.
Ron Hill's 1970 Record Win
3. The greatest Boston Marathon race received scant attention. Sure, the Hussein-Ikangga sprint provided an intense finish, but for drama nothing has approached the 1982 foot-to-foot battle between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley. Dubbed, "The Duel in the Sun," these two top 10 world-ranked marathoners rarely strayed from the other one's shadow for the final 24 miles. with Salazar winning 2:08.52 to 2:08.54. More than three minutes later, Texan John Lodwick crossed the line in 3rd Afterward, Salazar needed intravenous fluids. Neither runner ever ran as fast again.
Duel In The Sun
In 2006-07, I wrote a six-part magazine series on the race. The series not only commemorated the 25th year of the duel, but also the release of John Brant's fine book, Duel in the Sun. Yes, a book was written on one race, the greatest in Boston history, maybe the greatest that it will ever see.
The race deserved more than the few frames of coverage it received.
Having said all that, I understand some of the challenges that goes into such an ambitious project. Sure, there's always monetary considerations, but Derderian told me another issue was getting permission to use the images they wanted.
So I'll give the filmmakers the benefit of doubt on all three exclusions.
We are still gifted with a marvelous history of the most revered race in our sport's history. Every runner should watch this. You will not only be inspired, but you'll come away with a greater appreciation for this sport, and this race.
Photos courtesy of Boston Athletic Association and Harry Hall.