Two Marathon Stories

Flanders Fields

This would undoubtedly be a better account of the Boston Marathon if there were space to tell the story of Bob Hall, who conquered the difficult course on a wheelchair in a time of about 2:40. Or that of Will Rodgers, a former winner and Boston's beloved All-American boy who, after leading in the early going, dropped out of the race in Newton with a leg problem. Or that of the hectic start at Hopkinton, where the record field of over 3000 runners vied with Paul Newman (making a movie on the race) for the overflow crowd's attention. And I wish I could explain in detail how the Honeywell Computer made sense out of all the names, numbers and times at the finish line, or list even a few of the t-shirt slogans (which ranged from HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM to HACK'S BAR to ARTHRITISto STOP THE B-1 BOMBER).But since I only have 70 lines, I can't tell you all those stories. Instead, I'll have to concentrate on two runners: a Turk named Veli Bally (or Eeli Bally, depending on your command of Turkish) and a Winthrop House sophomore by the name of Bill Berkeley.

For a while, confusion reigned in front of the Pru and no one seemed to realize that Bally, a short man with dark skin and a moustache, had placed second in the 81st running of this classic foot race. The Associated Press, for example, in its first bulletin decided Bally was actually Mario Cuevas, a Mexican runner who finished second in 1976. Cynics would say that to most Americans a Turk looks like a Mexican, but Bally did have a half-moon and star on his racing jersey, which is hardly a Mexican emblem. To be charitable, one could say the mistake was made because no one could believe the unheralded Bally had run a 2:15.44. After all, Veli Bally is not a household word, even if he was the only Turk entered in this year's BAA Marathon. (Try saying that name three times fast.)

But if the truth be known, there was more grief in store for Bally, because for a while, he thought he was the winner. A friend and interpreter, Serhan Benevenli, explained: "He is so mad now. He thought he was the first. He didn't see the man in front of him." That man, Canadian Jerome Drayton, had dueled with Will Rodgers for 13 miles or so before he pulled away for good, ending in front of the cameras and spectators at the Pru in 2:14.46. A minute or so behind, unaware that the laurel wreath in Mayor Kevin White's hands was not destined for him, Bally came charging in. One doesn't have to be a Hollywood scriptwriter to guess what was going through Bally's mind those last hundred yards: here he was, an unknown foreigner, heading for the greatest athletic triumph of his life and world-wide fame. It is hardly worthwhile to belabor the pain of his rude awakening.

After the race, Bill Berkeley sat on a cot in the basement of the Prudential and talked quietly of what the Marathon had meant to him. Berkeley was no stranger to the 26 miles and 385 yards between Hopkinton's town green and the recovery room he and hundreds of others like him were resting in--he had tried the year before in the near-intolerable heat. He didn't make it in 1976, stopping after 17 miles. So Berkeley had hoped his second shot would erase that memory. "I didn't do anything but pass people all the way," the curlyhaired History and Lit concentrator said, explaining his time--a morethan-respectable finish in the low 2:40s. "I was feeling dizzy and wiped out at around 13 miles. Everybody was stopping all the time."

At one point, in Wellesley, Berkeley thought about dropping out again, although he knew that would condemn him to another year of frustration. But he kept going. Cleveland Circle came, and the Citgo sign appeared and, he recalled, the next couple of miles were the toughest. As he told his story, it was clear he felt he had reached his "unattainable goal," and could shrug off the fatigue and pain and enjoy his victory.

A side note: Berkeley, an Andover graduate, took time off last year, and among other jobs he worked for the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. He must have felt at home with the show he put on yesterday.

Certainly Bally and Berkeley are worlds apart, in upbringing and education, in language and athletic ability. But their stories illustrate the variety of experience and the alwaysfresh quality of the Boston Marathon. There is enough space, by the way, to mention that Johnny Kelley the elder, the Marathon's 69-year-old institution, trotted across the yellow finish line roughly three hours and 30 minutes after he started. And the gray-haired runner was smiling.