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A trial balloon with leaks

Boston and USATF not on same course

The question comes around every quadrennium. "Like deja vu all over again," says David D'Alessandro. Why shouldn't Boston host the US Olympic marathon trials?

"Of course the trials should be here," said the chairman and chief executive of John Hancock Financial Services, which has sponsored the Boston Marathon since 1986 and will for at least another decade.

Between 1908 and 1960, Boston was one of the US Olympic Trials races. But since USA Track & Field went to one-day trials in 1968, the site of the world's oldest continuous marathon has been out of the mix and likely will continue to be in the future.

"It's ridiculous," D'Alessandro said yesterday on the eve of the 108th race. "The last three men's trials were held in the Olympic meccas of Birmingham, Pittsburgh, and Charlotte. I'll tell you what it's about. It's about the federation getting some money."

Though rights fees from host cities certainly are a major factor in site selection, so is the federation's desire to send full marathon teams to Olympus, which means choosing flatter courses that produce faster times.

After only one man (Rod DeHaven) and one woman (Christine Clark) qualified in 2000, the USATF wanted to make sure that three men and three women all met the Olympic `A' standard, which is 2:15 for men and 2:37 for women.

That was no problem this year, with the top five men and top 10 women all qualifying. "I guess the objective is, let's send our mediocre runners, even if we don't know they're mediocre until they get there," said D'Alessandro.

On a hilly course with iffy weather like Boston's, odds of getting three qualifiers dwindle. Last year, none of the US men broke 2:15 here and only one woman (Marla Runyan) was under 2:37.

If Boston were to double as the US Trials, odds are the winner might be back in the pack. Not only has no American man won since Greg Meyer in 1983, none has been in the top five since Dave Gordon in 1987.

When Bob Kempainen ran 2:08:47 in 1994, the best Boston time by a US male, he still finished seventh. Runyan's fifth-place effort last year was the first top-five finish by an American woman since Kim Jones was runner-up in 1993. "If they did the trials within the race," reckons D'Alessandro, "the chances of an American finishing in the top 10 are de minimis."

The other option would be to hold a separate trials race here, although it likely would mean stripping the Boston Marathon of its top 100 Americans if it were held in the spring and might attract slim crowds. "I don't think it would be that interesting," said D'Alessandro. "You'd get 5 percent of the crowds. The only thing you would be assured of is, an American would win."

Even when the Boston Marathon was peopled by locals and the odd outlander, US runners rarely won the race in the Olympic year until 1968 and haven't done it since Bill Rodgers skipped the trials to win his fourth title here.

So unless the Boston Athletic Association bans foreigners or takes a bulldozer to the Newton hills, it's an odds-on bet that the trials won't be here again. "If they want a flat course, what they should do is 105 laps on a track," said D'Alessandro.

Boston, he says, is Boston and has been since 1897. "That's one of the great things about this marathon," says D'Alessandro. "It's an international race. Whoever's in, is in. No special deals."

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