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LOS ANGELES MARATHON : Leading Man’s Role Reduced to Nothing

The picture Channel 13 gave us most during Sunday’s Los Angeles Marathon was that of Tanzania’s Gidamis Shahanga sailing along way ahead of the rest of the field.

But once Shahanga faded, even slowing to a walk at one point, he disappeared from the screen, never to be seen again.

Did he quit altogether, or somehow make it to the finish?

It wasn’t until about a half-hour later, when the top five finishers were given, that viewers learned Shahanga came in fourth.

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Sure, television can’t cover all the stories, but this was one it shouldn’t have dropped.

Once winner Art Boileau of Canada and runner-up Pedro Ortiz of Columbia crossed the finish line, Channel 13 concentrated on the women’s race between the Zoya Ivanova of the Soviet Union and Rosa Mota of Portugal.

Shahanga was gone and forgotten.

And what about third-place finisher Ernest Tjela of Lesotho, who finished 58 seconds behind Ortiz? He wasn’t shown at all.

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Also, Boileau’s late surge caught everybody by surprise. He didn’t get a call until he raced into the lead.

Did the station’s communications falter again, as it did two years ago?

Announcers Barry Tompkins, Larry Rawson and Nancy Ditz, stationed in a Channel 13 studio in Hollywood, can’t see what is happening. They must be told. Or they can guess, but that can mean trouble.

When Mark Plaatjes, one of the pre-race favorites, dropped out at 18 1/2 miles, Ditz guessed as to why. She suggested that since he saw he wasn’t going to win the $26,000 and the car that goes to the first-place finisher, the $10,000 second prize or the $4,000 third prize wasn’t worth pursuing, that it would be better the conserve his energy for future marathons.

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This assumption was incorrect. Plaatjes actually was forced to quit because of blood blisters developing on his feet.

No, it wasn’t a perfect telecast for Channel 13, but covering a 26-mile road race is a huge undertaking, particularly for an independent station, and Channel 13, all things considered, is to be congratulated for its effort.

There were no major mistakes, like missing the winner cross the finish line, which is what ABC did in covering the New York City Marathon a couple of years ago.

The attempt is there to improve from year to year, and in this respect, Channel 13 is succeeding.

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One innovation this year was a computer program developed by Nick Curl, the technical director of the race, and Phil Olsman, the producer of the telecast, which provided instant identification of any runner from his or her number.

Overall, the announcers were good. Tompkins has anchored the coverage the past two years, and done it well, and Rawson, Ditz and Toni Reaves are all running experts.

Channel 13’s Vic (the Brick) Jacobs appeared overdressed in suit and tie in the pack-cam, but at least the station didn’t overdo his role.

The role that was underdone was Shahanga’s.

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