Americans seem lost on the road to victory

Men winless since 1983

women getting reoriented

Boston Marathon

April 20, 2003|By THE BOSTON GLOBE

BOSTON - Greg Meyer never thought it would be 20 years and counting until another U.S. male won the Boston Marathon. "I thought I'd win it again," said Meyer, whose 1983 victory now stands as the high-water mark for domestic road racing. "I'm surprised."

In the two decades since Meyer posted his blistering time of 2 hours, 9 minutes, the sport and the race have changed dramatically, leaving the native-born Americans literally a mile behind the global leaders.

For the past dozen years, marathoning - and Boston's hallowed laurel wreath - has belonged to the Africans, most of them high-altitude Kenyans. When the gun goes off for the 107th race in Hopkinton tomorrow at noon, there won't be a homegrown men's contender in the bunch.

No American has finished among the top five since Dave Gordon in 1987, the year before the Africans arrived in force. None seems likely to for a while. "I don't see it happening," said Bill Squires, who coached Meyer and the rest of his Greater Boston Track Club teammates in their glory days.

The numbers tell the tale. Except for Moroccan-born world-record holder Khalid Khannouchi, who gained U.S. citizenship three years ago, no American runner ranks among the men's world top 100 this year and none has broken 2:09 in nine years.

"Obviously, we would love to see an American win Boston sometime in the next three to five years," said Ryan Lamppa, a coordinator for the Team USA Distance Running program. "I would love to say next year, but ... "

What's much more likely is that an American woman will break the tape in Copley Square.

That hasn't happened since Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in 1985, but after Deena Drossin's stunning American record (2:21:16) in London last Sunday, the day seems closer.

"I hope that it acts as an inspiration, just like Paula [Radcliffe's] performance [a 2:15:25 world record] did to me," Drossin, 30, said. "You could either look at it as `I can never do this' or as `Wow, these barriers are being broken.' "

It was Joan Benoit Samuelson's shocking world record (2:22:43) in this race 20 years ago and her Olympic victory in Los Angeles that inspired a generation of American women to take on the marathon. "She's still an icon of the sport and a legend," said the Waltham-born Drossin, who chopped five seconds from the mark Benoit Samuelson set in Chicago in 1985.

Drossin is the poster woman for the Joanie Generation, which also includes Marla Runyan (personal-best 2:27:10) and Milena Glusac (2:31:14), who could be the first two Americans to crack the top 10 at Boston since Kim Jones and Debbie Kilpatrick in 1997. "I think it's a very good opportunity to have a strong American showing," Glusac said.

No such chance for the U.S. men, whose top people, such as Dan Browne and Alan Culpepper, are focusing on this summer's world championships in Paris. The top American entrants here are Richard Byrne (2:19:11), Peter Gilmore (2:21:47), and Robert Dickie III (2:22:00). When Meyer won in 1983, a 2:19 wasn't even within shouting distance.

"There were so many good Americans back then," said Meyer, whose 2:09 is still the fourth-fastest by an American here. "You look at that race that day, we had three guys [Meyer, Ron Tabb and Benji Durden] under 2:10. The cupboard was full - then it dropped off the table."

For more than a decade, beginning with Frank Shorter's stunning Olympic victory in 1972, Americans were in the forefront of international road racing, especially at Boston, where a homeboy won the race eight times in 11 years.

"We look back at it now and say, we were the good old days," Meyer said. "It was incredible."

"In a way, it was easier 25 years ago," said Alberto Salazar, whose 1982 victory over Dick Beardsley was perhaps the greatest foot-to-foot duel in race history. "There was no money, so there was nothing to chase. You were a starving artist."

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