Two miles from the finish line, a motorcycle policeman escorting Bill Rodgers through the people-packed streets of Boston yesterday turned to the little marathon runner and said, "Someone is closing fast on you."
Only when Rodgers reaches the finish line did he realize how close. Rodgers was barely 15 yards ahead of Dallas seminary student Jeff Wells at the end of a magnificent 26-mile 385-yard race. It was the closest finish in Boston Marathonb history.
"There was very little I could do except to hold on and hope for the best," Rodgers said. "The last six miles I was just maintaining. I was faling apart. I never had to get it out as hard as I did today."
Rodgers was clocked in 2 hours 10 minutes 13 seconds this cool gray day when conditions were ideal for a marathon despite a brief drizzle near the end. Wells finished two seconds behind Rodgers, and could have been closer.
"I had to dodge a motorcycle right at the end," Wells said."No, it didn't cost me the race. I think Bill had already finished; I couldn't have caught him. I'm just sorry I didn't push harder along the way. I felt very strong at the end."
Rodgers, 30, said he mostly felt awful. "From 20 miles on I was really hurting," he said. "It was the hardest marathon of my life in these kinds of conditions."
Rodger's victory was his third straight in major marathorn competition.He won the New York Marathon last October, finished first in Fukuoka, Japan, in December and triumphed here yesterday for the second time. He won Boston in 1975, setting the American record of 2:09:55.
Edsa Tikkanen survived a bump by a bicyclist at the 20-mile mark to finish third in. 2:11:15 Jack Fultz later complained that the press bus slowed him near the finish and cost him third place because he could not pass through the 10-deep crowds.
Gayle Barron, 33, a part-time television sports-caster from Atlanta, was the first woman across the finish line, in 2:44:52. Bruce Robinson of Silver Spring, Md., led a 150-man and woman Washington-area contingent, coming in 22nd in the field of 4,212 official runners and some 2,000 more outlaws. Robinson was clocked in 2:18.2, his best-ever marathon.
The 82nd running of this affair had been billed as a duel between Rodgers, 1972 Olympic champion Frank Shorter and the defending champion, Jerome Drayton. Drayton slipped into Boston late Sunday night, slept in a borroeed bed, the dropped out at the three-mile mark, the victim of a sore hamstring.
Shorter managed to stay with a front-running pack that included Rodgers, Tikkanen and Kevin Ryan of New Zealand as they wound through Natick, 10 miles into the race. But three miles later, he had faded back 60 yards and never recovered.
"About halfway through the race I just tied you like you couldn't believe." Shorter said."I guess it just proves I've got a lot more training to do." Still, his time and placing were enviable enough, a 2:18.15 that was good for 23rd.
At Wellesley, the halfway mark, Rodgers, Ryan and Tikkanen were running side by side as the crowd, made up mostly of college coeds out of school this Patriots Day, chanted "Go, Go, Go." Wells was in a group of five runners at that point, some 150 yards behind the leaders.
Rodgers, Boston's hero who owns a running store three miles from the finish line, made his move for the lead on familiar teritory.
He trains often on the hills that begin at the 18-mile mark and and as he hit the gradual slope known as Brae Burn Hill he opened up a 30-yard advantage on Tikkanen.
By the time he came off the treacherous stretch known as Heartbreak Hill, Rodgers had stretched the lead to 100 yards, although he could barely see behind him because of the crowds lining the route.
Wells said he decided to try to catch Rodgers with about three miles to go because the crowd told him he had a shot at winning.
"At 24 miles," Rodgers said, "I looked back and saw red shorts. I didn't know what to think. I know Wells was right on my tail at the end. I also know he's and incredibly strong finisher. I mostly die at the end, and maybe Jeff knew that."
Well knew only that he felt strong finish, and he told everyone who cared to listen that he should have pushed harder during the middle portion of the race.
"But there's certainly no shame in losing to Bill Rodgers," said Well, 24, Seminary. "I'm sure we'll do this tage on Tikkanen.
There was the usual wild and frantic scene at the finish in front of the Prudential Building. Rodgers was surrounded by policemen and escorted to the victory stand even before he managed to catch his breath.
As he accepted the traditional laurel wreath from Boston Mayor Kevin White, Rodgers blew kisses to the crowd that numbered more than 50,000 despite a chilling drizzle.
By the time Rodgers made it to the interview room, the basement of the Prudential Building was beginning to fill with pained and panting runners.
While an army of local podiatrists ministered to countless blisters and swollen feet, many runners found it necessary to sprawl on cots or lie on the floor before attempting the traditional free meal of beef stew.
When on runner was asked if he thought the race worth the effort, he thought for a moment, then started to cry. He couldn't stop.ted to cry. He couldn't stop.