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Bill Rodgers: A Hundred Years Old and Still Running

April 15, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Today marked the 100th running of the sporting institution known as the Boston Marathon, 26 miles and 385 yards of ups and downs and a shot at a certain kind of glory.

More than 38,000 runners began the race in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, at noon, and the end in downtown Boston, where there were champions in the men’s, women’s, and wheelchair divisions, and many thousands of sore feet.

How to explain 100 years and the growth of marathon mania: we’re joined by a man who ran the race today and won it four times in the past, Bill Rodgers. Mr. Rodgers, thank you for joining us. Are you a little winded there?

BILL RODGERS, Former Marathon Winner: (Boston) I’m not now, but I was during the race, yes.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What was it like out there?

BILL RODGERS: Well, it was kind of tricky maneuvering through all the runners. I’ve never been in a race where there were so many runners, and I’ve never usually been back so far, so it was an experience for me, but I had a lot of help from a good friend, and there was a lot of mutual support among runners. We all give each other water. It’s pretty fascinating.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Of course, this is the largest one there’s ever been, right?


CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The largest marathon?

BILL RODGERS: As far as I know, this is the biggest marathon in the world.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What–tell me what “Heartbreak Hill” is and what it was like getting there today?

BILL RODGERS: Well, Heartbreak Hill is the fourth hill in a series of hills–excuse me–starting around the 17-mile mark. Heartbreak Hill is the final hill. It’s 600 yards long. It’s about the 21 mile mark.

Just as your body is beginning to really feel the fatigue, you don’t know if you can make it, you’ve got to climb this hill, but I hardly even saw the hill today. There’s so many people on that section of the course, and they’re cheering for you every step of the way, they pull you into the– over the top of the hill.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Was the marathon different at 100?

BILL RODGERS: Yes, it was, it was different. It was certainly different for me. I’m retired as a competitive marathoner. I wanted to run it just because it was the 100th, but, uh, the people along the course are the same, I think, and they’ve been watching it so long, they really love the runners, and admire, I think, their effort, and they cheer ’em on tremendously. It’s really exciting. There’s a powerful atmosphere at the start, during the race, and along the finish line. It’s just amazing.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is that why people do it, for the adulation?

BILL RODGERS: Well, maybe that’s a little of it, I guess. I think it’s partly though that we all have this incredible challenge of this distance to overcome, and sometimes you fail at it or you don’t hit your goals. It’s very disappointing. But you always think you can improve in the sport, and usually you can. It’s a great sport to make strides in. Some sports you take two steps back for every one forward. But this one you always can go forward, I think.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How much of it has to do with amateurs being able to run with professionals?

BILL RODGERS: I think that’s a pretty interesting part of our sport also. You can have Olympic champions. There were many Olympians there today, many world record holders, and you might beat one of those runners. I saw, in fact, a world champion from a few years back on the side of the road. He has a leg injury, and he wasn’t able to finish. He just had a bad day. That can happen to anybody. We’re all not immune to these kind of setbacks, and I dropped out twice on Boston, and just about every top runner in the world has.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you kept coming back.

BILL RODGERS: Well, I, I was really lucky, because, Charlayne, I moved to Boston and I had a store on the course, and I dropped out my first time there. The second time I hit 14th. The third time I was able to win. And it was a thrill. It’s an addicting kind of race. Every part of the race was handled tremendously well today by the Boston Athletic Association, by thousands of volunteers.

The whole city comes together, and I really like that connection between everyone helping each other out. You know, there’s a lot of goodwill floating around, I think. I love that part of that. I love the energy of the spectators. You know, they cheer for you and you wave, and it makes you feel like you’re in the Super Bowl.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Of course, Boston, they don’t call it the Super Bowl, they call it the mecca of marathoning. How, umm–what impact has this mecca of marathoning had on sports and, and exercise and people’s attitudes towards being healthy?

BILL RODGERS: Well, I think it’s had a good effect, because we found that really, that there are no restrictions in entering this sport, distance running or marathoning. You don’t need to be a certain weight or height or have a tremendous amount of talent in a particular area.

You can just go out there and through your own kind of ambition and determination create the athlete you want to be. And I think people are really intrigued by that. I certainly was as a runner, and I still am. Just like getting older. It even gets more interesting as you get older. I think that’s a big part of the attraction of our sport.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What do you expect to see in the next hundred years?

BILL RODGERS: The next hundred years, that is a good question.


BILL RODGERS: That’s the toughest one of all, but I think today was a kickoff for the next hundred years, and I hope that John Hancock Financial Services, who is our sponsor for the marathon, a big American corporation, will stand by our sport, because we need big companies to take a look at sports like ours which are not really in the limelight very much. Maybe one day a year they are, and yet, I think the endurance sports are a big part of American sports today, and participation is the key.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Great. Well, we’ll look forward to seeing you over the next hundred years. Thank you, Bill Rodgers.

BILL RODGERS: My thanks.