Boston 1982 - The Duel In The Sun
by Don Allison
In the universal
scheme, a decade is a veritable blink of an eye. In the world of marathoning,
where fame is fleeting, a decade can seem like a lifetime. Surely to
Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley, two athletes who staged an epic
duel in the 1982 Boston Marathon, one that has not been and is not likely
to be repeated for years to come.
By 1982, 24 year
old Alberto Salazar was in the midst of an unprecedented streak of dominance
in the world of long distance running. Predicting victory and backing
it up in his marathon debut (New York City 1980), Salazar went on to
record-breaking performances in cross country, track, and road racing.
His outspoken style often aggravated rivals, while his running earned
their respect. Clearly, he was the man to beat in any race he entered.
In sharp contrast,
Dick Beardsley had quietly crept up on the consciousness of the running
community. The soft spoken midwesterner concentrated on the marathon,
steadily improving his personal best in each of his first twelve 26
milers, culminated by an eye opening 2:09:36 in the 1981 Grandma's race
in Minnesota. Unknown at the time, Beardsley's sharp focus and intense
training for the '82 Boston marathon had elevated him to the level of
his more celebrated rival.
To Salazar, competing
in the Boston marathon was a natural progression in a stellar running
career. As a talented and precocious teenager from Wayland, MA, he often
challenged the seasoned international runners of The Greater Boston
Track Club, earning him the moniker 'rookie'. An all-American career
at Oregon University followed. Salazar incurred a knee injury in his
final year there, but overcame it to snag the final spot on the 1980
USA Olympic 10000 meter team. The US team never made it to Moscow and
Salazar turned his attention to the marathon.
The New York City
marathon had been the sole province of the legendary Bill Rodgers from
1976, when it moved to the five boroughs from Central Park. As the 1980
race approached, Salazar responded to queries about his readiness by
predicting a time of 2:10. As good as his word, he crossed the line
first in 2:09:40. His second marathon, a year later back in New York,
resulted in a much celebrated world record 2:08:13, a time later rescinded
when the course turned up 146 meters short. The red hot Salazar captured
second in the world cross country championships in March of '82 and
a week prior to Boston ran a time of 27:30 in a 10000 meter challenge
race in Eugene. He was unsure about running his hometown marathon despite
his father's exhortations to do so. Salazar remembers: " I felt
very confident. I was unsure of whether I was going to run until a few
days before. I ran hard 10K a week before and had a slight hamstring
tear. I felt I had a shot at the world record based on my finish in
the world cross country and the 10K time." Recovery proceeded a
pace and a mid week announcement indicated Boston was on.
There was no such
equivocation with Beardsley. As a high school runner in Minnesota, he
received a unique graduation gift from his father. " He gave a
round trip paid ticket to run the Boston Marathon. I never dreamed at
the time that when I finally ran years later, it would be as a contender
for first place." A bit surprised by his own success, he set his
sights on Boston by hooking up with coach Bill Squires, renown for prepping
elite marathoners for the rigors of the hilly trek from Hopkinton. A
virus two months prior to the race slowed Beardsley, but the rest period
left him feeling refreshed and ready. " It was definitely the best
thing for me. I got back into training and set a PR for 10K (29:12)
in Atlanta. It felt incredibly easy."
in Boston two weeks before the marathon. After running the first half
of the course at 5:30 pace in full sweats, he awoke the next day to
find a full foot of snow on the ground. Undaunted, he headed to the
heartbreak hills with Squires and completed the scheduled workout into
the teeth of a noreaster. Nothing was going to interrupt final preparations.
He says, " I was very excited. I never felt more ready for a race.
I was also happy to see Al was running. I wasn't sure he was running
until I saw him get off the plane." Friendly and accessible to
everyone, Beardsley arrived in Boston with a refreshing and candid approach,
saying "I'm thrilled to be here and I'm going to go out and give
it my best shot."
Dawning of April
19 brought groans to most of the competitors. The marathon was scheduled
for noon, yet by nine, the weather was already comfortable for shorts
and T-shirts and getting warmer. This was fine for Beardsley, who did
much of his training in Atlanta and considered himself a good hot weather
runner. Salazar, on the other hand, spent the winter in rainy and cool
Oregon. This did not diminish his confidence. He felt ready to run.
Beardsley was not an unknown commodity to Salazar. " I knew he
was going to be tough. He was focused on Boston. He had been flying
back and forth to Boston to train on the heartbreak hills."
As is usually the
case in Boston, a large pack of runners blasted through the early downhill
miles. Despite the weather, mile one was clocked in 4:35. Regarding
the conditions, Salazar remembers, "It didn't feel that warm. Although
it was in the sixties, it was very dry, sort of like Arizona."
One by one the challengers dropped off the relentless pace. Four time
winner Bill Rodgers let go at sixteen miles and by the time they turned
at the Newton firehouse on to the hills, it was a two man race. Beardsley
was unfazed by the situation, gaining confidence with every stride.
" I knew no one had been with him before at that point in a marathon.
I felt great and tried to break him on the hills." Salazar was
clearly in for a major challenge, but insists he didn't feel the pressure.
" I knew that if I got over the hills without him breaking me,
there was no way I wouldn't win, unless I tripped and fell or something.
I felt my track background would be the difference."
As the duo passed
Cleveland Circle and closed in on the final miles, the crowd was becoming
aware that a race for the ages was in progress. No major advantage was
gained by either on Beacon street until they reached the Eliot Lounge
landmark with less than a mile to go. Beardsley was looking the fresher
of the two, as his competitor's countenance took on a strained and pale
Despite this, Salazar
was not about to relinquish his title as the world's finest marathoner
without a battle. A circus atmosphere enveloped the race. A growing
entourage of police motorcycles flanked the runners, attempting to ward
of the enthusiastic crowds spilling out on to the course for a better
view. It was at this point that Beardsley felt his hamstring go. In
a heartbeat, Salazar gained a sizable advantage. Beardsley remembers
" So many thoughts
went through my head. At first I had trouble running and told myself
that second place was not so bad. Then I thought, 'I've done nothing
but eat sleep and drink Boston for the last six months, I have to keep
trying.' Miraculously, a pothole Beardsley stepped in righted his hamstring.
" I shifted into a higher gear, cutting the lead until I pulled
even. I remember him looking back with a horrified look on his face."
He adds, " Then I made my biggest mistake. I was relieved just
to have caught up. I should have gone right by him, but I didn't."
What followed was the oft cited "motorcycle incident"
As the course turned
on to Ring road for the finish in front of the Prudential building,
(the course has since been altered to a finish further down Boylston
street) one of the motorcycles allegedly forced Beardsley to a wide
turn, costing him precious distance. Beardsley dismisses the incident,
saying " I never thought that was why I didn't win." Rather,
it was the true champion in Alberto Salazar that emerged. Drawing upon
his last reserves, he sprinted to the finish, holding off Dick Beardsley
by two ticks of the clock before staggering across the finish, utterly
spent. The two embraced about twenty yards beyond the finish line. Said
Beardsley, "You ran a hell of a race." Replied Salazar, "You
had me hurting." The winning time of time of 2:08:53 was an afterthought
then, but would increase in importance as the days, months and years
passed following the race. The 2:09 barrier, bettered by the pair on
a warm afternoon, would remain unbroken by US marathoners to this day.
The contrast in
the physical condition of the two runners was clearly evident in the
initial moments following the finish. Salazar made a half hearted appearance
to receive his laurel wreath, before retreating to the medical area
for some much needed attention. The animated midwesterner who had nearly
stood the world of marathoning on its ear remained at the finish line
laughing and talking to the media.
The drama was not
over although third place finisher John Lodwick was several minutes
up the road. Doctors attending to Salazar saw his condition deteriorate.
Completely dehydrated, a chill cooled his body temperature to 88 degrees.
Several liters of IV fluids were required to stabilize his condition.
Recalls Alberto, " I felt decent immediately afterward, but started
to feel feint at the awards ceremony. I went to the underground garage
where they gave me fluids. Have you ever had a cramp in your foot? It
felt like I had a cramp in my entire body. In retrospect, I surely didn't
drink enough during the race. I took no water at all over the last eight
miles." He candidly traces some problems he encountered in later
years to that race, saying, " I've never said this before, but
I feel that one race had a lot to do with my health problems in later
years. I feel I permanently damaged my thermo regulatory system on that
day. Although I went on to run well on the track that summer, I never
was the same and it all went downhill after that." In perhaps the
greatest testimony to the importance of the victory, he expresses no
regrets. "If asked whether it was worth it, I would have to say
yes. It means a great deal to have won that race."
Remarkably, or perhaps
not, Beardsley was also never quite the same, despite the fact that
he finished in relatively good shape. " I probably did some stupid
things afterwards. I raced hard when I probably shouldn't have. I just
couldn't say no to the race directors who invited me to races."
Not surprisingly, Dick remains upbeat about the marathon today. "I
have no regrets at all. There was no loser on that day. It doesn't matter
that I finished second. To have run so well against somebody I respected
so much was enough. I'll not forget that day - it left such a positive
mark on my life. I have absolutely no regrets. If I had it to do over,
I wouldn't change a thing." A fitting conclusion to a classic indeed.
editor's note: This
article was written in 1992, on the 10th anniversary of the famous "duel
in the sun" . In the five years since that time, Salazar fashioned
a stunning comeback by winning the famous Comrades 54 mile ultramarathon
in South Africa in 1994. After that race however, Salazar suffered injuries
that limited his competitive running. He is now coaching several athletes
in Oregon, including Mary Decker Slaney.
Dick Beardsley seriously
injured his leg in a tractor accident, leaving him unable to run much
at all. He recently admitted to be addicted to pain killing drugs we
was taking for his injuries. He was arrested for allegedly forging drug
prescriptions for pain killing drugs.