My Olympic Moment — Finish of the Women’s Marathon

Almost immediately, a truck appeared to begin collecting barricades.  Traffic was flowing freely again within five minutes.  Workmen appeared to reset gates and take down decorations.  They would be needed again next Sunday for the Men’s Marathon.

The marshals gathered for a round of self-congratulations and to wait for transportation back to the RAND Corporation.  The buses were doing triple duty — after they had dropped us off, they had gone in turn to the two other marshal assembly points (due to the length of the race, other sections of the course didn’t have to be set up until after the start).  While we were waiting, my friend Ken, his wife Ellen and I decided to sneak into the stadium.   We didn’t see anything special.  The decorations were colorful, but we couldn’t even find the starting line.  On the way out, Ken  stepped inside a wire gate and onto the baseball field next to the stadium to use a portajohn, and discovered someone had already locked the gate behind him.  We had to get Security to let him out.  While the guard was finding the right key, I overheard on his radio, “There’s a runner four blocks behind everybody else.  Her number is ___.   Please verify that she belongs out here, or I’m going to pull her off the course.”

Still no bus.  How far is it to our car?  A mile and a half?  We decided to walk.  One block from the parking lot and “Look, there are the runners!”  The course was doubling back on Ocean Avenue, and the runners were right in front of us.  Ken and I ran down to watch, dodging about 50 bicycles that were following the race by paralleling the course one street over.

By the time we got back to the parking lot, the buses were bringing everyone back.  And there was a surprise — food!  Submarine sandwiches, fruit, small cups of potato salad, and cookies.  Plus there were items, like Cokes and M&Ms that obviously had come from Olympic corporate sponsors.  We loaded down and made a mad dash for my car.

Then came a hurried ride across town to get close to the finish.  I drove, Ken read the map, and Ellen watched the portable TV while we all munched.  Off the freeway at one of the Coliseum exits, we drove south to find the course.  Now where to park?  Getting close now… there’s one!  I yanked the wheel and we zipped in, bouncing off the curb in front of two startled pedestrians.

The course was only a block away.  The marshals here seemed glad to see us.  “The crowds aren’t heavy yet, but we’re spread pretty thin and we have no rope.”

“Do you mind if we help, then?”

“No, go right ahead.”  Since we were still in full uniform and had our course badges, we were ready to go.

The course here was a six-lane highway divided by railroad tracks.  Marshals were trying to control both sides and were spread about 70 yards apart.  This was about the 24-mile mark.

Gradually, the crowd thickened.  Some wore buttons “America’s Choice — Joan Benoit” (who did win the gold medal).  Occasionally a vehicle, course pass displayed in the windshield, would go by.  Race director Len Wallach, still riding tandem on a motor scooter and carrying a bullhorn, came to check the preparations.  The runners must be getting close — there’s the Goodyear Blimp and a helicopter.

The crowd was two-deep now.  Souvenir vendors were appearing.  One man had brought a stepladder.  Occasionally someone would dart into the street to look for the runners.  We could have a real problem here.

Then a small pickup roared up.  Rope had arrived!  Two marshals grabbed the end off a big spool and tore down the street.  The rope laid in the street in the middle of the curb lane.  That was a mistake — the spectators immediately left the curb and moved into the street to stand at the rope.

“Get them back on the curb!” a policeman yelled.  We picked up the rope and forced everyone back.  Now to tie the rope.  I got out the pocketknife I’d brought especially for this situation.  But where to cut it?  And how could we tie it with all these people standing in the way?

Fortunately, there was an easy answer.  The marshal at the intersection tied that end to a light pole.  “Now everybody grab the rope.”  Half the spectators obeyed, and they held up the rope for us.

Just then a flatbed truck appeared.  “The runners are 15 minutes away.”  Soon we could see the flashing lights.

First came a phalanx of motorcycle police.  Then the ABC-TV camera vehicle and several other vehicles.  Within this cocoon came the leader, Joan Benoit.  It was about 10:20.  A minute or so behind came Grete Waitz of Norway.  Then came the battle for the bronze between Rosa Mota of Portugal and Ingred Kristiansen of Norway.  At this point they were within 20 feet of each other.  We had to be alert; some runners were passing within three feet of the curb.  All were cheered.  One runner in red had no form at all — she was running knock-kneed and her arms were going every which way.  I remarked to a spectator, “There’s someone who’s struggling.”  It had to have been Gabriel Andersen-Scheiss of Switzerland, who collapsed at the finish.

But where was Julie Brown, the American we’d seen at the start who was an outside favorite to medal?  Surely she didn’t drop out?  No, finally she came, struggling but keeping good form.

At that point we left.  Working two miles in one day was enough, and no one complained when we said goodbye.


Nest;  The Men’s Marathon


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