Toughness goes a long way with Pippig She's favored tomorrow in women's marathon

Atlanta Olympics

July 27, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Running marathons is tough enough on the body when it's functioning without any unusual problems; when all a runner has to do is worry about whether his or her legs can last over 26.2 miles and whether the mind will give in to the simplest of temptations. Like stopping.

Then there's the way Uta Pippig ran this year's Boston Marathon. And the way she won for the third straight year on the most famous human road course in the world. It will be talked about for years as the locals gather in the April chill along Heartbreak Hill.

And it will be talked about here tomorrow, when Pippig goes out as the favorite in the women's marathon at the Olympic Games.

"I had to get a very strong mental attitude to finish that race," Pippig, 30, recalled earlier this week. "I said that whatever I experience in Atlanta would never be as bad as what I had there."

What Pippig experienced was severe menstrual cramps and gastrointestinal difficulty from the five-mile mark on. It caused her to stop a couple of times and consider dropping out.

Though Pippig ended the race in Boston as she usually does -- blowing kisses to the crowd after finishing first -- she wound up spending two days in a Boston hospital because of the bleeding and dehydration.

"It was a pretty rough time for her," said Dieter Hogen, her husband and coach.

Pippig will try to put those memories behind her as she represents Germany on the hilly and hot Olympic course tomorrow morning. Even though the starting time has been moved up from late afternoon to 7 a.m., the humidity will be as big a factor as the hills.

"It will be a tactical race, and that's what I like," said Pippig, who finished seventh in the 10,000 meters at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. "Whoever trains the best for the heat has the best chance to win."

What Pippig doesn't like is that the Olympic marathon, unlike the case in Boston or in any other marathon she has run, is divided by gender. "I have to be honest, I'll miss the men," she said, "because I like [running with] men."

Pippig's road to becoming the best women's marathoner in the world is an unusual one.

Born in Leipzig, East Germany, she started running at 13 because "one of my girlfriends was doing it." Chosen for one of the country's sports schools at 17, she said she was given a pill every day that turned out to be an anabolic steroid. She eventually moved to Stuttgart in late 1989 after the Berlin Wall came down.

She started as a miler and 3,000-meter runner in the late 1980s before jumping to 10,000 meters in 1991 and the marathon in 1994.

Aside from her dominance in the Boston race, Pippig has won three marathons in the past six years in Berlin, winning one of them after running 300 meters off course. Maybe her poor sense of direction exists partly because she doesn't drive a car.

Asked why she likes running marathons, Pippig smiled.

"You can stay in relatively good shape and eat whatever you want," she said.

The 5-foot-6, 108-pound runner looked tanned and relaxed when she appeared at a news conference earlier this week. She and her husband took a long vacation after Boston, then returned to their home in Boulder, Colo., to get ready for the Olympics.

Just how she prepared is a secret, something neither Pippig nor Hogen will divulge until after she runs tomorrow.

Those who watched Pippig run in Boston, or saw highlights of the race, aren't surprised at her strength. Her personality is similar to that of tennis star Monica Seles, but so is her toughness. Jenny Spangler, who won the U.S. Olympic trials this year in Columbia, S.C., said: "I had always heard she was tough, but that showed me how tough."

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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