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Over the years, the marathon has had its share of controversy. In 1967 a K.V. Switzer was entered in the race, giving officials no forewarning that they had--gasp!--given a number to a woman. (Roberta Gibb had run Boston the year before, but without a number.) So when some of the fellows aboard the press bus started kidding marathon guardian Jock Semple about the gender of this one runner, Semple jumped off the bus and tried to pull Kathrine Switzer out of the race. As Switzer recalls, "My boyfriend, who weighed 235 lbs. and was a hammer thrower, took Jock out with a cross-body block. I was so embarrassed and upset, but if I dropped out, everyone would have said that a woman couldn't do it."
Ironically, it was Switzer who helped expose Boston's most infamous imposter. In 1980 Rosie Ruiz jumped into the race at Kenmore Square, a mile from the finish, and passed herself off, at least temporarily, as the first woman to cross the finish line. When Switzer, working as a television commentator, asked the "winner" about her intervals, Ruiz responded, "What's an interval?"
Two runners who hold a special place in Boston's heart are Joan Benoit (later Samuelson) and Rodgers. Benoit, then a Bowdoin College senior, entered the '79 marathon on a lark, only to find herself at the front of the pack. With just a few miles to go, a friend handed her a Red Sox cap to remind her not to blow her lead the way the Bosox often did, and Benoit wore the cap home to victory.
Rodgers, too, came as something of a surprise. Considered a flake by his fellow runners, he went to the starting line in 1975 in a hand-lettered BOSTON T shirt. "I remember I was neck and neck with Jerome Drayton from Canada after six miles," Rodgers recalls. Incensed that the crowd was cheering more for Drayton than for the local kid, Rodgers took off. "I went from 2:19 down to 2:09. Today, they'd say I was on drugs." Rodgers would win the marathon three more times, but it was something he said after his '75 win that endeared him to Boston. Rodgers said he was heading for the Eliot Lounge.
Located a few blocks from the finish line, the Eliot is the Grauman's Chinese Theatre of running, with footprints of famous runners in the concrete outside. Inside, host and 24-time marathoner Tommy Leonard is anxiously awaiting the pre- and post-100th parties. "It's going to be like the Normandy invasion, only positive," says Leonard. "It'll be like a bouillabaise of society, a Noah's ark of life." Leonard can be forgiven his rhapsodizing. While Boston may go on forever, the Eliot will not: last call is this September. But not before Leonard captures the essence of Boston. "The sweet magnolia blossoms along Commonwealth wait until Marathon Day to pop," he says. "Everything falls into step."
--Reported by Sam Allis and Tom Witkowski/Boston