Minutes after he had won the fastest and closest Boston Marathon, Alberto Salazar lay on a bare, green Army cot in the dank basement garage of the Prudential Building, his shivering and twitching body covered by a rude burlap blanket.
All around him, men were moaning and, sometimes, screaming. A nurse stuck an intravenous feeding tube in Salazar's arm. An anxious doctor took the runner's temperature: 88 degrees. Standing above him stood his father, though Salazar did not know it in his dazed, trembling state.
In his worried father's hand was a laurel wreath.
Just minutes before, Salazar had worn that victor's crown of laurel as he stood before the statue "Quest Eternal" at the foot of Boston's tallest skyscraper. He'd waved to a huge finish-line portion of the throng of more than a million people who'd seen him run this day.
They'd cheered Salazar wildly for his valiant kick to win the swiftest (2:08.51) Boston Marathon by two seconds. They'd roared with amazement as Salazar, the world marathon record holder who grew up in nearby Wayland., Mass., had, after racing shoulder to shoulder with Dick Beardsley for nearly 26 miles, pulled away to win by 10 yards with a closing sprint in the last 500 yards.
But that crowd could not see Salazar now, nor help him, nor thank him. Their thoughts were distracted.
First, they had to cheer the noble Beardsley, who not only had broken his own personal best time by 44 seconds, and, in fact, broken the previous Boston Marathon record by 33 seconds. Both he and Salazar, running with a 15 mph tailwind on a 64-degree day, smashed the old mark of 2:09.26, set in 1981 by Toshihiko Seko.
Beardsley lost his last chance to beat Salazar when an absent-minded motorcycle cop swung into his path and forced him to break stride in the final hairpin turn just a quarter-mile from the finish.
That simply climaxed a heroic, but star-crossed day for Beardsley, who also was gently sideswiped by the press bus near the 25-mile mark, then, about half a mile later, got a minute's worth of hamstring cramp.
"Alberto has so much leg speed that he probably would have outkicked me anyway," said Beardsley.
After Beardsley, who lives in a log cabin in Minnesota, had been praised to the warm, blue skies, the mob had to holler for "Boston Billy"--Bill Rodgers, the four-time champion here who finished fourth in 2:12.38 just 37 seconds behind Oregonian John Lodwick. It was Rodgers' worst finish in Boston since he first won in 1975.
Then, before word of Salazar's suffering could reach them, the fans gave a whoop of delight for West Germany's Charlotte Teske. The loud noise surprised Teske since she assumed she'd finished second, several minutes behind three-time world record holder Grete Waitz. Only after Teske had finished in 2:29.33 did a policeman tell Teske that she'd actually won the race, beating Canada's Jacqueline Gareau by 6:42 and third-place Eileen Claugus of Sacramento by more than nine minutes.
Waitz had dropped out, despite a large lead, after 23 miles because of leg cramps. "The quadriceps (muscles on top of the thighs) were the problem," said Waitz, who was ahead of a women's world-record pace. "I got up Heartbreak Hill, but coming down was tougher . . . My legs wouldn't move. I just couldn't do it."
This was the day when Salazar and Waitz, the king and queen of the marathon, paid the agonizing price that every distance runner knows.
In that basement garage of the Prudential Center lay hundreds of runners in a scene that only needed Florence Nightingale to look like it came from the Crimean War.
Such predictable horror has been the rule now, not the exception, for 86 Boston marathons. What was different today was that the greatest of marathoners shared in the greatest pain.
"He'll be all right," said Dr. Thomas O'Donnell to Salazar's father Jose. "The majority of the people we get in here (in the marathon emergency unit) have hypothermia. I've seen (body) temperatures go down to 85. It's lack of salt and water. Don't worry. Alberto never lost consciousness and his blood pressure's stayed normal."
"Ninety-five," said the nurse, who was announcing every degree of rise in Salazar's temperature.
Salazar's father, his wife on one arm and that wreath on the other, gradually relaxed, then even began exchanging marathon war stories with those around him.
Salazar's father does not mention that after a 7.1-mile race on a 90-degree day a couple of years ago at Falmouth, Mass., his son lost consciousness, had to be packed in ice and was given his church's last rites.
At 2:56 p.m., 48 minutes after he crossed the finish line in his first Boston marathon, Salazar finally recognized his parents at his cotside and smiled. Just 15 minutes later, so amazing were his recuperative powers, he was standing, talking, then walking unaided, looking for Beardsley for a chat perhaps only marathoners would grasp.
They had much to discuss. This was their day.
Ten miles out of Hopkinton Green at Natick, they were part of a leading pack of just six runners. Through the Wellesley Hills and Newton Lower Falls, their company dwindled to just the final four. Before they reached Heartbreak Hill, with more than six miles to go, Salazar and Beardsley were alone--Salazar just a pace off and behind Beardsley's right shoulder as he was much of the day.
"At 25 miles, I felt pretty good," said Beardsley, winner of two marathons in '81. Then his bad luck started. First, the press bus brushed his hip. Or he accidentally veered into it. There are witnesses on both sides of that one.
Then, his hamstring began to tighten. "I was limping and Alberto is too good a runner not to notice that." Salazar opened a 10-yard lead in the final mile.
Next, Beardsley misstepped in a pothole on Commonwealth Avenue "and that seemed to straighten out my hamstring . . . I surged again."
As Salazar made the final turn off Hereford Street for the finish, who had reappeared, just a pace behind him, but Beardsley? That's when Beardsley says the motorcycle cop in their escort accidentally made him do some dodging.
Nonetheless, even Beardsley doesn't maintain he could have beaten one of Salazar's famous finishes. (Salazar's final margin was, according to old hands here, slightly closer than Rodgers' 1978 victory.)
By evening, Salazar was able to speak for himself. Looking dapper as if he hadn't done a lick of work all day, he did the rounds of local TV shows, saying, "I'm okay now. I was just very dehydrated . . . I wasn't surprised to see Beardsley (on his shoulder) again on the last straightaway. I hadn't completely expended myself on my first surge. I thought I had enough left."
Salazar smiled, the myth of the invincible, immune-to-pain marathoner intact. Salazar allowed only one man in on his secret today.
"He told me," said Beardsley, " 'You had me hurtin' today.' "