Television often gets the blame for moving starting times. So give the Boston Athletic Association -- and its TV partners, who signed off on the change -- credit for moving the women's start of the Boston Marathon to 11:31 a.m. Soon after Joan Benoit Samuelson (celebrating the 25th anniversary of her first Boston win) fired the gun to start yesterday's women's race, it was clear the decision was a winner.
The race's TV partners (Channels 4 and 5 in Boston; ESPN2 and Clear Channel nationally and worldwide) had a nicely timed sequence of events to follow. Each outlet also had the option of choosing the feed from four races, plus going to its own cameras fixed along the course and at the start and finish.
But it was the women's race, which came down to a duel between eventual winner Catherine Ndereba and Elfenesh Alemu, that caught the producers' imaginations on all feeds. Their head-to-head competition was caught from the beginning as the women's lead truck picked up the race from the start instead of 6 miles out, as in past years.
As Ndereba ran to the finish, Channel 4 analyst Kathrin Switzer, one of the race's pioneer runners, got emotional savoring the moment as a woman became the first runner to cross the finish line.
Samuelson, back on Channel 5 after getting a police escort from Hopkinton, had a race to which she could add her personal experiences.
Out on a high note
The 108th Boston Marathon was the 22d -- and final -- race production for departing CBS4 news director Peter Brown, who begins his new job as director of public affairs and communications for Brigham and Women's/Faulkner Hospitals today.
"It was the first big event we covered after I arrived here in 1983, and the last one before I leave," he said yesterday after a four-hour stint in the control room. He can leave knowing coverage of the race went from primitive to cutting edge on his watch.
Picture-wise, it may have been the best Boston Marathon production yet. A new digital tower at the 11-mile mark relayed early images almost flawlessly. Only when the race got into the stretch between Kenmore Square and the top of Boylston Street did images tend to dissolve, blocked by the tall buildings. Directors in all trucks had other options and made the switches.
More threatening was a power failure at the finish line that knocked out the anchor positions for 10 minutes midrace, but quick switches to reporters on the course made the broadcasts almost seamless. Channel 5 went to Anthony Everett, who anchored the coverage from Hopkinton during the outage.
Both Channel 4 and Channel 5 used a window of live action on-screen during commercials, a technique pioneered by Channel 4.
"I'm flattered that Channel 5 thought enough to copy our live video during commercials," said Brown. "Our advertisers all signed off on the move."
May it become a movement throughout the sports-on-TV industry, cutting down on the overlong TV timeouts and time between innings.
On the money
On Channel 4, expert analyst Toni Reavis (aside to NBC: grab this guy for the Olympics) was insightful, and he displayed humor when bringing anchor Bob Lobel back on point and was poetic in describing Ndereba's suffering expression with her crown of laurels ("a Biblical visage") . . . A lot of runners finished on bum wheels, as did the women's lead vehicle, which stayed the course running on a tire that went flat during the race . . . When the power went out, Channel 4 got extra mileage out of former Olympic champion Frank Shorter, who was miked and running in the middle of the pack . . . Lobel noted that it would be great if Alemu, irritated at being shadowed by Olivera Jevtic in the early miles, "duked it out on Heartbreak Hill." . . . When Lobel noted that men's winner Timothy Cherigat looked like a linebacker, Reavis retorted, "Sure. He probably weighs 127 pounds." . . . When Natalie Jacobson said Cherigat looked like a weightlifter as he ran to the finish, Samuelson and Bill Rodgers followed her lead. It seemed to be aimless prattle during the moment of victory . . . Reavis echoed the sentiments of many American viewers: "If only we had a home team to root for." . . . US Olympian Alan Culpepper, working the ESPN2 telecast, was optimistic for the future of US marathoning based on "the number of 28-minute 10,000-meter runners we have." . . . Split screens were common on all the broadcasts. Channel 5 superimposed multiple windows on its blue course graphic, which made the windows (and three clocks) stand out . . . Channel 4 used a clever moving roadway as its background . . . Channel 4 had Ndereba's husband, Anthony Mughia, in studio and on the air. Reavis made the point of how counter to Kenyan culture it is to have a husband happy to be in the shadow of a successful wife . . . The crowd favorites, Dick and Rick Hoyt, made it to the finish. Dad was sidelined by a heart attack last year. He was choking back tears when asked about the support he got . . . Concern was widespread for Ndereba, who was spent at the finish. Reavis: "This is a brutal sport. She went deep into the tank today. Looking at the Olympics, you don't know if she can recover in time." Samuelson: "Remember, Alberto Salazar did that at Boston and never was the same again." Switzer: "You can't do that very many times."