BOSTON (AP) _ American Jean Driscoll won an unprecedented seventh consecutive Boston Marathon wheelchair race today and Heinz Frei of Switzerland took the men’s wheelchair division, leading a record field across the finish line of the event’s 100th edition.
Driscoll, of Champaign, Ill., finished well ahead of her closest pursuer with a time of 1 hour, 52 minutes, 54 seconds. Only Clarence DeMar, who won seven non-consecutive races, has won as many Boston titles.
Frei, who won the 1994 race in record pace, finished in 1:30:11 and was the first to be crowned with the laurel wreath at the 100th staging of the longest-running long run in the world.
Defending champions Cosmas Ndeti and Uta Pippig and thousands of other runners left Hopkinton at noon headed for the Back Bay finish line, where race officials prepared for an unprecedented influx of fatigued feet.
A total of 38,706 official entrants _ four times the previous record _ poured out of their corrals at noon under near-perfect weather conditions, joined by thousands more unofficial bandits.
After snow last week and rain over the weekend, the skies cleared and the temperatures warmed to the 50s for race day. Only a slight head wind was expected to slow the runners in their 26.2-mile commute of cuts, callouses and cramps.
``The weather feels great right now,″ John Ferguson, 36, of Henderson Hall, Va., said while he waited for the start. ``When I first checked in, they said cold and rainy, but it cleared up real good. It feels just about ideal.″
The forecast was good news for race officials concerned that warm weather could lead to unparalleled problems in the massive field. Just in case, there were 2,500 medics, 190 massage therapists, 160 podiatrists and rows of cots and wheelchairs waiting in Copley Square.
``If everybody does the job they’re delegated to do, this will go off like clockwork,″ race announcer Harold Rathburn said.
Ndeti went to the front early, leading each of the first 12 miles and leading the pack across the 20-mile checkpoint at 1:38:05 _ falling behind the 1:37:56 he ran when he set the course record in 1994. Pippig fell behind by 40 yards but had re-taken the lead at the 18-mile mark with a time of 1:39:30.
As the leaders crossed the five-mile mark, some of the runners at the back of the pack hadn’t started yet. For those near the back of the pack, it took 28 minutes to reach the starting line _ well ahead of schedule. It took another three minutes for the bandits to finish starting.
As they waited, race patriarch Johnny Kelley _ a two-time winner, seven-time runner-up and 58-time finisher _ serenaded them with ``Young at Heart″ and ``God Bless America.″