Channel 4 Stays Course on Long Day

Running a marathon for the first time isn't easy. Neither is televising one for the first time, as Channel 4 learned Sunday.

The station delivered on its promise to get more local runners on the air, but there were plenty of bumps in the road during the four hours of Los Angeles Marathon television coverage.

"It was technically challenging," producer Phil Olsman said. "But I think things got better as we went along and, from our point of view, we thought we put on an entertaining and interesting telecast."

However, there was one major omission. The women's wheelchair race was ignored. The winner, Cheri Blauwet, was one of the more interesting people in the field of more than 22,000 competitors. Blauwet, 22, was a Rhodes scholarship finalist while studying molecular biology at Arizona and plans to enter Stanford's medical school in the fall.

Although the camerawork was a bit shaky at times, not much else was missed.

Olsman is a veteran producer of marathons. He handled the first seven that were on Channel 13 and also produced last year's coverage for Channel 9.

But there were too many inexperienced Channel 4 news reporters involved in Sunday's coverage and not enough running experts.

Larry Rawson, who is perhaps the foremost marathon announcer in the country and worked many of the past L.A. Marathons, was sorely missed. It was up to co-anchor Toni Reavis to carry the broadcast, and that was a lot to ask.

The other anchor, Fred Roggin, didn't profess to be an expert, but that was a problem.

It's OK to set up your broadcast partner, but Roggin asked one question after another, and some of them were a little odd. Such as this one about the start: "Other than trying not to get trampled, what are you trying to do?"

Roggin's nonstop stream of questions became almost as tiring as that department store commercial where the guy on the couch gets a clean shirt.

Speaking of the department store, what was the deal with women's race expert Kathrine Switzer? Was she getting a bonus every time she mentioned the store?

It wasn't a good day for Switzer, who at one point proclaimed that having a 47-year-old woman, Tatyana Pozdnyakova, win the race was "world headlines type of stuff." Well, not quite.

Also, when Switzer was interviewing Pozdnyakova afterward she called her "Lioudmila." Lioudmila Kortchaguina finished second. At least Switzer corrected herself.

Switzer's counterpart on the men's race, Alberto Salazar, didn't have a great day either. And not just because he couldn't hear Reavis and Roggin when they went to him.

(He wasn't the only one who couldn't hear. Communications were a problem throughout the race for everyone. Olsman said it was because of crowd noise.)

When the men's leaders passed the 22-mile mark, Salazar said, "We can say goodbye to the L.A. Marathon record."

The record was not broken.

Salazar also had a slip-up when he was interviewing men's winner Mark Yatich. He mentioned Yatich had been training with Khalid Khannouchi, whom he called "the world-record holder in the mile." Khannouchi is the world-record holder in the marathon. Salazar did not correct himself.

Some of the Channel 4 people did a fine job, particularly Patrick Healy, who was out on the course among the pack and still going strong at the end. Denise Valdez at the 15-mile mark and Beverly White also handled their assignments well.

But Fritz Coleman should have been limited to weather reports. He was out of place handling the awards ceremony. He made a bad mistake when he said Yatich was "a three-peat winner." Runner-up Stephen Ndungu was trying to win the L.A. Marathon for the third consecutive year.

Doug Kriegel was someone else who seemed out of place. His crack early on about "20,000 runners donned in their underwear" just wasn't funny. It's running gear.

Another low point in the telecast, which had nothing to do with Channel 4, came when a volunteer made the women's winner, Pozdnyakova, who missed the tape at the finish line, go back and do it again for the benefit of the still photographers.

Channel 4, which didn't get any second chances, had plenty of misses in its first L.A. Marathon. But there were some nice features, such as one on the Kenyan training facilities and a story Roggin did on 90-year-old competitor Ernie Van Leeuwen of Encino.

And one thing seems certain. With one marathon under the belt, Channel 4 will be in better shape to go the distance next year.

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