The most important numbers in handicapping the Boston Marathon this year are 617-936-1234. That's the phone number for Boston area weather. And the weather probably will dictate whether Bill Rodgers wins the 26-mile 385-yard torture trek tomorrow from Hopkinton Green to the Prudential Tower.
"The high on Monday will be about 50 degress." Boston's weather forecasters predicted. If that is accurate, Rodgers is even-money to score another important plug for his running equipment and sporting goods store in Chestnut Hill, Mass. He won the marathon in 1975.
If, however, the temperature spurts to 65, Rodgers' chance will decline sharply. And, should a heat wave suddenly send the mercury sprinting into the middle 70s or low 80s kiss Rodgers goodbye.
In 1973, the first year he competed in the event, and again last April, the Boston race was run in unseasonably warm temperature. Rodgers dropped out both times, although last season he lasted until the 19-mile mark in a duel with the eventual winner, Jerome Drayton of Canada.
"I'm not in top form." Rodgers said, which is great because when Rodgers claims to be in top form, he usually isn't. When he contends he is in a slump, he usually wins. No matter. Rodgers was the best distance runner in the civilized world last year, from New York to Fukuoka, Japan.
Rodgers' main rivals appear to be Drayton and Frank Shorter. Drayton claims he is suffering from a pulled hamstring, however and Shorter talks more about the glory of finishing well than winning and of "making it through pain-free."
Boston finally has broken down and agreed to pay Shorter's travel expenses from Colorado. Once this was done the foot that has bothered the 1972 Olympic gold medalist (and silver medalist of 1976) got healthy in a hurry.
And then there is the 51-man contingent from Japan headed by Yokohama law firm of Suzuki, Taketomi and Watanabe. The Japanese are 1-5 to lead in the early going but 500-1 to finish among the first three.
My long-shot specials are Veli Balli and Esa Tikkanen. Balli, a 28-year-old Turk, closed like the Darley Arabian and just failed to catch Drayton last year. There is arumor that Tikkanen, a Finn, comes equipped with three quarts of Lasse Viren's frozen blood.
Should either man win 1 will be off on a marathon of my own - from Maryland to Honolulu, to Hong Kong, to Bangkok, to Agra, to Baghdad, to Athens, to Rome, to Paris and back to Maryland. backing Rodgers unfortunately, would only get me as far asFrederick.