This is no time to be reporting the bleak news about the Boston marathon, which is to be run for the 83rd time at noon Monday, but bleak news there is. Next year, according to Will Cloney, the race director since the 1930s, the qualifying times are likely to be stricter.
He didn't say what times would be acceptable next year, nor did he say what group of runners-men over 40, women or men under 40-he had in mind. But eith a record 7,000 official entrants this year, plus another 2,000 to 3,000 who may crash, Cloney said, "We must do something to keep down the size of the field."
The current restrictions are tough enough. For men under 40, a time under three hours in another marathon is necessary. For men 40 and over, and women, 3 1/2 hours is needed. These imitations were imposed a few years ago, when a field of a thousand or so was considered a massive bunchup.
A new time restriction won't affect some runners, but for those in my part of the pack it will. I made this year's Boston with a time of 3:28 last year and made it to that one off a 3:26 in the previous Marine Corps. Unless a marathon comes along that sends us 26 miles downhill from a mountain peak, I know of no way, self under a time of three hours.
For now, we will have to worry about the 1980 Boston in 1980. For Monday's race, the uplifting news is that Will Cloney and his lieutenants have been working on what sprung up suddenly last year as the major woe of the day: crowd control.
At some points along the route from Hayden Square in Hopkinton to the finish line before the Prudential building, runners were forced to slip along single file through the crush of spectators. Bill Rodgers speaks of this even now. The crowds, wanting to take in the sight of Rodgers holding a lead that was diminishing mile by mile by the time he reached Hearbreak Hill, forced him to weave through the mobs rather than run through them.
It doesn't help that the summit of Hearbreak comes near Boston College. Beer-drinking students are dangerous enough away from an epic event like the Boston marathon, but in the midst of it, party time becomes chaos time. They create a density of bodies without minds that turn a road race into an obstacle race.
The hope Monday is that wall-to-wall police on the hills will assure an easy passage for the field. At Kenmore Square, which is near Fenway Park and not far from the finish, barricades will be erected for crowd control.
But not too much control. The crowds at Boston are much of the overall delight that runners of every speed and age have come to expect. Whether you are a running legend, like Johnny Kelley, who is (71 and has run in 47 Bostons, or one of the delayed-vocations like me, the cheering of the schoolgirls at Wellesley College at 13 miles, or the shouts of the firemen at the station house at 18 miles, or the roars coming up Hereford Street at 26 miles-all of this creates a runner's high unique to Boston.
Among the front-runners this year, Rodgers is the favorite. He is skittish about the weather, but curiously he is about the least hypochondriacal among the thoroughbreds. To hear some of the sub-2:20 crowd, it is as though they were among the world's lame and halt. They talk not only of their medical misfortunes but also give you their recovery times: 27 days to get over their bad left ankle, 43 days for their swollen right knee, 12 days for their tendons. I think they want a patch and T-shirt for every injury.
If ringers exist at Boston, it is the foreign contingent, especially the Japanese. I was told last year that the emperor so cherishes a homeland victory at Boston that the 100 or so Japanese entrants will go hell-bent from the gun and attempt, in a mild craze, to sprint the whole marathon. They do this in the hope that perhaps one of them will defy all sense and make it home the winner.
But the system ought not to be knocked. Since 1951, Japanese runners have won Boston six times. In the famous race of 1965, Morio Shigematsu broke the then-existing record with a 2:16:33. Five of the first six places were won by the Japanese.
This year, Toshihiko Seko is seen by many as the major threat to Rodgers. Seko won the Fukuoka marathon last December against a world-class field in 2:10:21, with a tired Rodgers coming in sixth.
Seko told Will Cloney the other day that because of the "west wind" blowing from Hopkinton to Boston the record will be broken "by two minutes this year."
Such bold talk makes Rodgers already more nervous than he is in the days before the race. "I consider Seko the toughest contender here," he said. "I've never beaten him, though I've beaten the other top contenders." CAPTION: Picture, Will Cloney (left), director of the Boston marathon, introduces the two favorites in this year's race: Bill Rodgers, a two-time winner, and Japan's Toshihiko Seko. Monday is the big day. UPI