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Driscoll tops rival and DeMar in women's wheelchair race

By Tony Chamberlain, Globe Staff 4/18/00

No. 8! At last!

Jean Driscoll waited a few yards beyond the finish of yesterday's Boston Marathon before raising her arms with a series of hearty whoops and a few ``Praise God!'' shouts.

Two years ago, as she began a premature celebration, archrival Louise Sauvage shot past her to take the tape in a photo finish.

But yesterday, bucking into a cold easterly headwind, Driscoll, the 33-year-old seven-time women's wheelchair winner, finally got over the hurdle that had stopped her from getting to eight _ namely, the 26-year-old Australian, Sauvage.

Driscoll finished the windswept course in 2 hours 52 seconds, with Sauvage just 24 seconds behind and closing fast.

The significance is that Driscoll broke her tie with Clarence DeMar for most wins in one Boston division. DeMar, the legendary Melrose runner, won the men's race seven times between 1911 and 1930.

``I was scared stiff the whole last mile,'' said Driscoll, whose nemesis, Sauvage, had won the last three races in Boston. ``I kept expecting her to catch up.''

The cold wind made the race particularly tough, especially when the lighter Driscoll was buffeted on the downhills.

``It was bad the whole race,'' she said. ``I was getting frustrated on the downhills. I'd look back and she'd be catching up.''

The first part of the course is a long downhill run, and it was soon clear that the times would be off the world-record pace set by Driscoll at Boston in 1994. At 6 miles, the wind had knocked Sauvage and Driscoll about four minutes behind it, in fact. Miriam Nibley, who finished third, was close to the leaders at that point but starting to fade.

By the halfway mark, Driscoll and Sauvage had dropped 8 minutes behind the record pace and were swapping the lead, alternately taking the job of bucking the wind for the other. By the three-quarter mark, they were eight minutes ahead of Nibley in third.

Into the Newton Hills, Driscoll made her move, and on the crest of the steepest incline, she had a 20-second lead but feared it was not enough to withstand Sauvage's superior downhill speed. Through Kenmore Square, with a huge crowd howling as Sauvage closed from behind, Driscoll sprinted, wheeling hard without pause until she broke through the blue tape at the finish. Only then did she let go with a celebration of her own.

``I'm so extremely happy,'' said Driscoll, shivering beneath a blanket at the finish. ``I've waited for this a long time. But winning with competition like Louise makes this win legitimate.''

From 1990 to '96, Driscoll won Boston seven straight times. At the time, she heard criticism that the division was not competitive. But then Sauvage, seven years younger, appeared on the scene and ended Driscoll's streak.

In 1997, Sauvage and Driscoll ran together the entire race - something they have done four times now _ until sweeping into Cleveland Circle. At that point, Driscoll's wheel caught a trolley track and her bid to break DeMar's record came tumbling down when she overturned.

Driscoll finished about six minutes behind Sauvage, though still in second place.

The following year, Driscoll seemed to have the race won and was about to celebrate when Sauvage whizzed past her. Last year, Driscoll spotted Sauvage about 50 yards but came on strong. Both races were so close that the two were credited with the same time, though Sauvage won each time.

After the 1999 race, Driscoll said, she considered retirement and took some time off. The wins weren't coming easily anymore, and the record-breaking eighth seemed almost out of sight because she could no longer feel ``the fire in the gut.''

But it came back, and she went back to the fundamentals of her training. When she came to Boston a few days ago, she was nervous but also ``quietly confident.''

``I am so happy I came back to Boston today,'' said Driscoll. ``The first six victories were a lot easier. The seventh one was hard-fought. And today was a long time coming.''

``I was hoping I could catch her,'' said Sauvage. ``I thought right through the race I could, and I never gave up.

``I had her in my sights. But the wind was just so strong and it was so cold. It was just horrible.''

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