Race to the Finish

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Three-time Boston Marathon Wheelchair Winner Louise Sauvage

by John Gettings
Louise Sauvage wins the 1998 Boston Marathon

Sauvage and Driscoll's photo finish. (Source/Wide World Photos)

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It was the closest finish in Boston Marathon history. Amidst more than 10,000 competitors, two wheelchair champions exemplified what marathons are all about. After more than 26 miles it was no longer a race against the clock, it was a race against each other.

Nobody could have predicted the close finish after the course's grueling hills in Newton. Defending women's wheelchair division champion Louise Sauvage was so far in back of leader Jean Driscoll she couldn't even see her in the distance.

So imagine Driscoll's surprise on the home stretch, when the seven-time champion saw Sauvage surge into view. With 70 yards left, however, Driscoll still held tight to her lead. But in the race's final second Sauvage lunged past Driscoll to capture the 102nd Boston Marathon with a time of 1:41.19. Driscoll's time was recorded as the same.

The day after the race Sauvage, 24, who lives in Sydney and holds four women's wheelchair world records spoke with John Gettings of the Information Please sports staff before heading home.

InfoPlease: For the last two years you and Jean have been a part of arguably the most memorable moments of the race. Is it a coincidence or are the two of you just looking for some big-time endorsement deals?

Louise Sauvage: No, it was definitely not planned, (laughs). If it was I would have gone past her a lot earlier. That (finish) was a lot closer than I would have wanted it.

IP: Have you seen a replay of the end of the race yet?

LS: Yes. I've seen it on the news a few times. It was cool. I couldn't wait to see it. I couldn't tell then how close it was. It was such a short distance and it all happened so quickly I wanted to see how it actually all happened.

IP: What did Jean say to you immediately after the race?

LS: She just said she didn't know that I was there. She was just in shock after the race. She handled herself really well. She's an amazing athlete. She knows what happened is just part of racing. Looking back I could see that she was lifting up her arms to go through the tape, and I got in there before her.

IP: Where did that last burst of energy come from?

LS: I don't know. It's impossible to say. I guess I was just on automatic pilot there for a while. Then I had her in my sights . . . I also didn't want to lose by that much either.

IP: What do you like most about the Boston course?

LS: The downhills. I'm good at coasting and that's where I make up a lot of my time.

IP: What speed can you reach on some of those down hills?

LS: Around 60 km/hr. (37 m.p.h.)

IP: What was the most difficult part of the Boston course?

LS: It's always been the hills. Heartbreak especially. But the straightaway at the end this year was really, really tough. I remember thinking 'I'll never catch up.'

IP: What were the conditions like?

LS: We were expecting a tailwind before the race, but it never turned out that way. We were just lucky the rain stayed away.

IP: When Jean crashed last year after getting her wheel caught in some Cleveland Circle train tracks, it brought attention to the additional concerns wheelchair athletes have that runners don't. Are there more?

LS: Well, we just have to be aware of the racing surface in general. There are manhole covers and potholes . . . If the winter in Boston was bad the streets crack and we have to watch out for those. The tracks were no worries this year, though, I didn't even brake going over them.

IP: What physically hurts the most the day after a marathon?

LS: My neck and my shoulders.

IP: What do you have planned for when you get home? Does your family have something planned?

LS: They live in Perth and I live in Sydney, which is like New York to Los Angeles here. So I won't have enough time to get back there for about three weeks.

IP: You've said in interviews that when the Paralympics come to Sydney in 2000, you're not sure if you'll compete in the marathon. What's holding you back?

LS: Well the time commitment is the toughest. Come 2000 I will have been doing this full time now for eight years. There is a lot of traveling. It takes a lot out of you. I suppose it's like any other job, except there is a little something new now and then.

IP: Do you have time to play any other sports?

LS: Yeah, I used to water ski and go swimming. I try to play basketball and I've done boxing as well.

IP: What else do you do with your time?

LS: I do public speaking and stuff for my sponsors around the country. I do a little bit of coaching. Helping the other coaches with the kids. I give encouragement and support to the new students—the new paraplegics and quadriplegics.

IP: Any chance they will be seeing videotape of the end of yesterday's race?

LS: Yeah . . . I suppose that would be good to show at one of my talks. Top place, y'know . . . and let them see my races aren't easy.

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