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In defense of Larry Rawson

Running geeks love to pile on Larry Rawson, verbally rolling their eyes whenever he’s on TV. Some of this is over-familiarity with some of his oft-used metaphors as he makes an effort to communicate the speed of top runners to less-sophisticated viewers; some of it is a perception that, after decades on the air (yesterday was Rawson’s 40th Boston Marathon broadcast) maybe Rawson is a little out of touch.

The obvious defense is that calling a race on live television isn’t easy. You have to be talking not just when you have something to say, like most fans, but all the time. Which means you have to be watching and thinking and talking all the time. Not easy at all. What’s more, the amount of information you actually have while watching races on screens is less than you’d think. I say this as someone who occasionally goes to these big races with the express purpose of getting more information to the people talking on camera.

I think Rawson deserves some credit for a few specific moments in Monday’s Boston Marathon broadcast:

  • As Meb Keflezighi was running through the Newton Hills, Rawson drew the parallel between Boston and the Athens Olympic marathon course, where Meb won a silver medal ten years ago. Not only was there a historic parallel — the Boston course was intended to be an imitation of the Athens route’s profile — but pointing out that Meb got away once before on a hilly course was an nice comfort to those of us sitting on our figurative seat-edges wondering if he would get caught.

  • In Brookline, with Chebet closing the gap on Keflezighi almost inexorably, Rawson went out on a limb and suggested that the pursuers had left their move too late and would need to work too hard to actually catch Meb. And sure enough, Chebet got within six seconds of Meb but found himself too spent to finish the job. It was a risky prediction that panned out; you only do that on television if you have a lot of confidence in your sense of the race.

Now, you could argue that Rawson was also sitting next to one of the best marathon-watchers currently in the business, David Monti, and was therefore somewhat aided in this. But as I’ve noted before, it was Rawson doing the talking live. He still had to decide what to say and what to sit on, which theories he agreed with and which to sit on.

So, maybe let’s go easy on Larry this time?

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