ABC's coverage wasn't a winner, but neither was N.Y. marathon

Phil Jackman

November 15, 1993|By Phil Jackman

The race was over and up on the television screen flashed the names of the first three male finishers in the New York City Marathon: 1. Salvador Garcia, 2:10:04; 2. Bob Kempainen, 2:11:03; 3. Arturo Barrios, 2:12:21. Only trouble was Garcia didn't win the race. He finished 34th. His Mexican countryman, Andres Espinosa, did win. Oops!

Of course, this isn't the first time ABC has messed up. A couple of years ago, the network somehow missed as winner Juma Ikangaa crossed the finish line, opting for the runner-up instead. Yesterday, though, it might have had an excuse.

Not since the Big Apple run evolved from a modest romp confined to Central Park into an international bonanza crawling over the city's five boroughs in the late '70s has the race been so, well, characterless. It was a bore with the net left with precious little to work with.

Only on the women's side, where favorite Uta Pippig breezed in 2:26:24, was there any evidence of a well-formulated game plan. "My secret was to go out fast," said the German woman, who realized that with her superior talent she could run the opposition out of it at her leisure.

The men, on the other foot, gave every indication that they were out for little more than a depletion run. There was no early speed, usually provided by the Africans. Where were those guys, anyway? There was no mid-race surge to separate the contenders from the pretenders. There was no working together late in an attempt to cut into the front-runner's lead.

After a nondescript 75 minutes, things gave promise of becoming interesting when no fewer than 14 runners were clustered on the 59th Street Bridge about to drop down onto First Avenue in Manhattan. But then there were no bold surges, no battle of attrition, no nothing.

Men expected to challenge in the late going, Barrios and Moses Tanui, speedsters making their first serious attempt at a marathon, proved too conservative.

Tanui said: "I need to compete with the distance before I compete with the other runners," and he never did get that straightened out.

As Barrios ambled in to finish third, ABC analyst Marty Liquori looked at his face and commented, "He's not thrilled with this effort."

Competitors who should have figured in the mix after laying off what pace there was through the first two-thirds of the race, didn't. Thousands of runners just seemed to be running out the clock. What the show needed was a two-minute warning, and there was none.

The lackluster nature of the race undoubtedly caused many viewers to focus more attention on the usual lineup of "features" the network feels are so necessary to its coverage. Stuff like:

* A couple jogging out to the 8-mile mark, slipping into formal wear quickly and getting married. . . . In years to come, how about an ordination, a bar mitzvah or a funeral?...

* ABC staffer Lynn Swann jogging along at a 10-minute pace and kibitzing with runners who momentarily forgot all the training they had labored through to get to this point only to become raving lunatics in front of the camera. . . .

* The time-honored medical advisories that reveal a human sweats when exercising in the heat and the only way to combat the loss of fluids is to replace them as one moves along. Eureka! . . .

Perhaps the biggest winner of all was PattiSue Plumer, the Olympic miler hired to ride along and analyze the women's race. She had her microphone go out and wasn't heard from until she got back to the studio.

True to form, Jim McKay got the audience all revved up with his usually well-written "follow the long blue line" opening, but then he was left with little to pursue to maintain interest over the first two hours of the telecast. Pictures of bridges and aerial shots of ++ the park from 5,000 feet go just so far.

ABC enlisted talk show host Don Imus to enliven things, but even the acerbic morning man had trouble warming up. He did have a pretty good line about the couple who married, saying, "If they're like most Americans, they'll be looking for [divorce] attorneys by the time they get to the Queensboro Bridge."

The thing is, it wasn't as though the conduct of the race was totally unexpected. A newspaper headline the other day suggested this was "the best field ever" for the event, which should immediately land the writer back in the office answering phones.

The outcome proved sweet vindication for winner Espinosa, who, in the three biggest marathons of his life before yesterday, got run down in the late going and finished second. He has run 2:10:00, 2:10:53 and 2:10:04 the past three years while finishing 2-2-1. Long live perseverance.

Men

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