The Duel in the Sun: The 1982 Boston Marathon

- From Old School

Each year on Patriot’s Day, tens of thousands of runners and more than a million fans envelope the roads from Hopkinton to Boston for an event known as the Boston Marathon.  Countless millions more watch this epic event on television world wide, as a combination of sport and spectacle unfold before our eyes.  In a demonstration of human spirit, runners from fifty states and a hundred nations leave Hopkinton and head due east in an amazing display of humanity that only an event of this caliber can match.  The 1982 version of this story was one for the record books and is still considered by many the greatest Boston Marathon ever; The Duel in the Sun.

Alberto Salazar grew up in Wayland, Ma, just a short drive from the half way point in the Boston Marathon.  As a high school runner, the Wayland High stud became State Champ, All-American, All-freaking-everything before his graduation.  After high school, he headed to the left coast to run in the footsteps of the late/great Steve Prefontaine in Oregon, where would go on to win National Championships and earn numerous All-American honors as a collegiate runner.  As a college and post collegiate runner, Alberto held too many world and American records to mention.  From 5,000 meters to the marathon, on the roads, on the track, and on the cross-country trails, it was widely accepted that Alberto was the best overall distance runner on this planet.  Prior to the 1982 Boston Marathon, in his each of his two previous marathons (at the New York City Marathon in 1980 and 1981) Alberto had run the fastest first time marathon (2:09:41) and the new and current World Record (2:08:13).  Some sports writers called him cocky, some competitors said arrogant, while others just called him the best.  But almost everyone in the sport of marathoning agreed on one adjective; unbeatable.

Conversely, Dick Beardsley grew up in Minnesota where he had a much unheralded high school and college running career.  He ran his first marathon in 1977, a relatively pedestrian 2:47 effort in Wisconsin that would give little indication that he may some day rise to world-class status.  By 1981, Dick had improved to where he won the London Marathon (2:11:48) and the Grandma’s Marathon in Deluth, MN (2:09:37).  Within the running community in 1982, it was believed that his 2:09 at Grandma’s Marathon was a fast time on a short (unmeasured) course.  Grandma’s Marathon and Duluth were the bush leagues.  When it was announced that he was entering the 1982 Boston Marathon, true runners and knowledgeable fans gave little consideration to his being a factor in the race.

I remember timidly walking into the high school locker room the first day of my freshman year; I knew I was on hallowed ground.  As a middle school kid I watched as the high school runners logged those long miles along the roads in my town through rain, heat, snow, and dark of night.  The local paper was filled with stories about their consecutive winning streak, an unbroken string of Conference Titles, and the State Championships.  I could only hope to someday be a part of a group like that.  I remember my first few races as a member of the JV squad; when our race was done, we watched our varsity crush one opponent after another…
About three weeks into that fall season in 1973 there was talk of the Northeastern Invitational, a cross country meet that brought the best runners in New England to Franklin Park in Boston.  (In 1973 there were no small/medium/large school divisions; just one start with more than 400 runners.)  The top runner at my high school was a senior named Joe Kolb; he was one of the best runners in New England and he was one of the favorites to win this race.  But there was talk of some kid, a sophomore named Salazar, who would also be right up there.  “How could this be?” I thought.  “No sophomore could beat Joe; no way”
That skinny sophomore from Wayland not only trounced Joe and 400 other runners that day en route to the biggest win of his young career, but he also put the rest of the Eastern Sea Board on notice that there is a future star in Massachusetts.

With the approaching Boston Marathon in 1982, Salazar was the heavy favorite; he was coming off a second place in the World Cross Country Championships, a recent 27:30 in the 10K, a World Marathon Record the previous fall, and in the Marathon he was, after all, unbeatable!

Beardsley had sought the guidance of Greater Boston Track Club guru Billy Squires prior to that 1982 race; Squires then began letting the press know that Beardsley was going to challenge Salazar for top honors in this years race.  Most folks in the running community, myself included, blew off Squires’ comments as just hot air; after all, Salazar was the new breed of distance runner, he was the world record holder, and unbeaten at the distance.  Salazar was a stallion that was bred for the Marathon.  Salazar was unbeatable!

Bill Rodgers, four time winner of the race, was looking to turn back the clock for one more Boston Marathon win.  But Salazar had Rodgers’ number; Alberto had beaten Rodgers several times in recent years at road races like the Milk Run.  Alberto had smashed the Falmouth Road Race course record just last year. Alberto was just getting better and faster at the marathon distance with each race that he ran.  Rodgers was a bit past his prime, and at 34 years old, he was not getting any faster.  Could anyone beat Salazar?

I was working the finish line at the 1978 Falmouth Road Race.  University of Oregon All American Alberto Salazar, just a few days past his 20th birthday and a week or so shy of starting his junior year, was back in Massachusetts to attempt to derail multiple time Falmouth Champ and perennial King of the Roads Bill Rodgers.  Rodgers was a huge favorite, but many of us tight to the running community knew that if anyone could catch Boston Billy it would be Salazar.  Waiting at the finish line in Falmouth Heights, we were in constant contact, via radio, with the press truck, which was feeding us an ongoing account of the battle between the veteran and the rookie.  We were informed that coming up the hill before the final turn, Salazar had finally broken Rodgers and opened up a small lead.  All of us working the finish line stared toward the course, but it was Rodgers who came into view first.  Apparently, Salazar had self-destructed in some way due to a combination of heat stroke, exhaustion, and dehydration; we watched in horror as The Rookie deliriously staggered home those final few hundred yards as one runner after another passed him.  At the finish line, Salazar’s near-lifeless body was carried off to the medical tent, and I watched as my friend was immersed in a tub of ice; IV tubes were plugged into both arms.  His body temperature had spiked to 107 degrees; his father stood over him holding rosary beads, praying, while a priest was called over to give him last rights.  Several hours later a group of us sat under the tents enjoying a few beers provided by the race sponsor.  Alberto was with us looking pretty damn good, all things considered.  Since my first Salazar experience five years earlier I had gotten to know Alberto quite well, but this day I learned something new about this young warrior.  He not only has a bigger engine under the hood, but he is also able to push his body to the brink of destruction, well past the pain threshold that would coerce most top runners to back it down a notch.  Alberto is a scary individual!
Alberto would come back here to Falmouth and win the race in record time in 1981.  He returned a year later to break his own record in 1982.  In between those two, there would be a Boston Marathon for the record books as well.

The day in 1982 was unseasonably warm for late April.  The noon starting time and 68 degree temperature were not conducive to fast times, so little was expected in the way of a course record here in Hopkinton.  The pack included Salazar, Rodgers, Beardsley, Ed Mendoza, and Dean Matthews as the leaders passed the 17 mile mark and turned on to Heartbreak Hill.  Beardsley took control and led the way up the first of the three hills that would peak at the 21 mile mark.  This is where The Duel in the Sun would begin.

The Salazar v Beardsley battle that began at the base of Heartbreak Hill would quickly leave behind the rest of the best marathoners in its wake.  The two separated themselves from the pack as they charged up the first of the hills.  Interestingly, it was Beardsley who was pushing the pace, while Salazar appeared to be hanging off the shoulder of the leader.  As the race moved deeper into the hills Beardsley appeared to become stronger; Salazar was either biding his time or hanging on with nothing more than good old fashioned guts.

When the pair crested the last of the three hills, the chase pack, which was too far in the distance to even consider, had been replaced by a group of motorcycle cops whose job it was to keep the throngs of fans, sometimes ten and twelve people deep, away from the runners.  On the ensuing down hill portion that would take the runners into Cleveland Circle it appeared that Beardsley was well in control.  If races were determined by facial expressions and body language, Dick Beardsley had this race already won.

With a mile to go, Beardsley still floated along with that beautiful stride that could give a cheetah an inferiority complex, while Salazar seemed to be holding on by nothing more than the grace of God and the notion that he believed himself to be the best marathoner in the world.  As the race neared the final half mile, the crowd grew so thick that the space left for these two warriors of the pavement was little more than several feet wide.  The damn motorcade of cops, none of whom have obviously ever run a race before, began some level of interference with the runners with their motorcycles, not to mention the fumes.  Due to the encroaching crowd and the motorcycle cops desire to be on television, space for running became a valuable commodity, and Alberto made his move; with less than a half mile left, he opened up a twenty yard lead on Beardsley.  The Wayland Warrior was about to show his Mid-Western foe just how we do things in Boston.  “Hey Dick, this ain’t Grandma’s Marathon and we’re not in Duluth any more; this is the big leagues!”

With 600 yards to go, one announcer mentioned that Salazar’s lead looked safe, while another commented the same thing about Toshihiko Seko’s course record of 2:09:26.  But neither Salazar nor Beardsley got the memo.  Beardsley dug deep into that reservoir of testicular matter and found something left in the tank.  Turning on to Hereford Street with a quarter mile to go, Beardsley had closed the lead to, maybe, ten yards!  Then, off the final turn and into the last straightaway, he pulled just on to the right shoulder of Alberto.  Salazar called upon that college track pedigree that had been honed over the previous six years, the same one that had served him so well against the fastest Kenyans on the tracks and the toughest Europeans on the cross country trails.  He found that one final gear, the one that Dick Beardsley (and every other marathoner in the world) didn’t have.  (It was an option that, in 1982, was available only on the Salazar model.)  Salazar opened up a fifteen yard lead over the final 200 to finish in 2:08:51 as Beardsley brought home second with a time of 2:08:53.  Both runners broke the course record by more than thirty seconds.  Four time Boston winner Bill Rodgers finished fourth, nearly four minutes back.

It was reported that, in the medical station after that race, Salazar’s body temperature dropped to 88 degrees.  Once again, he required several liters of IV fluids.  Alberto, who admittedly took no fluids for the final eight miles, would often reflect back on this race as the beginning of the downfall of his running career.  He has often since been quoted as to the damage that The Duel in the Sun did to his thermal regulatory system.

Both Salazar and Beardsley point to that race in 1982 as the beginning of their athletic downfall.  Salazar ran well on the track the following summer, but there after began a steady decline.  He never returned to his world class level.  He was just 23 years young at the time of his 1982 Boston win!
After his running career faded, Beardsley opened up a dairy farm, Marathon Dairy, in Minnesota.  In 1989 he was nearly killed in a “mangling” accident on the farm.  Between then and 1995 he was involved in several other accidents requiring surgeries.  Dick developed an addiction for pain killers that resulted in his arrest in 1996.
Currently, Salazar is widely considered the best distance running coach in the world.  He is one of the most visible and sough after coaches today.  He also survived one of the most publicized heart attacks in 2007.
Beardsley currently resides in Austin, TX where he is a motivational speaker.

Boston Celtic Larry Bird, who is considered one of the greatest players to ever grace the basketball courts, had his career shortened due to injuries caused by his rugged playing style and tenacious off season training regimen.  He often said that he felt he would be cheating the fans if he didn’t play all out all the time.  Boston Bruin’s Bobby Orr, who redefined the game of hockey, felt the same way about his injury shortened NHL career; “It’s the only way I know how to play.”
Alberto once commented on the negative impact that the 1982 Boston Marathon had on his running career, and was it worth it.  “I would have to say yes. It means a great deal to have won that race.”

It’s a Boston thing…

Old School

4 thoughts on “The Duel in the Sun: The 1982 Boston Marathon

  1. I believe the temperatures that day were in the 80s; very difficult running weather indeed. Boston sports has an amazing tradition of great athletes winning through intelligence and toughness; Larry, Alberto, Bobby Orr, and Paul Pierce make me proud to be a New Englander.

  2. Kathrine Switzer says in the video that with all the young talent in marathoning, we can expect more of this in future years. Who could have known that race would be the beginning of the end for not only those two runners, but for American distance running for the next 20 years??

    • Yep, this was the peak of American distance running for quite some time. Beardsley came out of the Minnesota scene a little bit after a couple of other very talented runners (Garry Bjorklund and Barney Klecker).

  3. Pingback: Duel In The Sun | Run Fast, Puke Left

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