Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

A year before he ran the 1982 Boston Marathon, Dick Beardsley had shared his first victory over 26.2 miles at the inaugural London Marathon, holding hands with Norway’s Inge Simonsen as they crossed the line together.

In Boston, this amiable 26-year-old dairy farmer from Minnesota contested the title with a fellow American, Alberto Salazar.

But though they were close enough to do so throughout the entire course - and without accompaniment for the last nine miles - there was never any question of hand-holding on this occasion. With temperatures rising to over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, both needed to concentrate all their efforts on remaining upright.

On that blazing hot Patriot’s Day of April 9, Beardsley and Salazar were respectively immoveable object and irresistible force.  And their epic efforts produced what was, perhaps, the marathon’s purest and most intense contest.

Certainly, on the eve of the 126th Boston Marathon - which will mark the 40th anniversary since the race now known as the Duel in the Sun - the spectacle these two Americans conjured is widely viewed as the finest edition of the world’s oldest annual marathon since it began in 1897.

The Boston Athletic Association record shows that the race was won by Salazar in 2 hours 8min 51sec, with Beardsley second, two seconds behind. So much for the bare statistics.

Beardsley had arrived in Boston as an underdog - albeit a massively determined and well-trained underdog - in a field that included Bill Rodgers, seeking a fifth Boston title at the age of 34, and Salazar, at 23, the world’s pre-eminent marathon runner.

The Cuban-born athlete had made his name by winning successive New York City titles - the first, sensationally, on his marathon debut in 1980, a victory that put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the second in 1981 in what was hailed as a world record of 2:08:13, earning him a White House audience with President Ronald Reagan.

At the inaugural London Marathon in 1981, Dick Beardsley, left, and Inge Simonsen ran together to share victory, holding hands as they crossed the line. But there was no holding hands when Beardsley met Alberto Salazar at the 1982 Boston Marathon ©Getty Images
At the inaugural London Marathon in 1981, Dick Beardsley, left, and Inge Simonsen ran together to share victory, holding hands as they crossed the line. But there was no holding hands when Beardsley met Alberto Salazar at the 1982 Boston Marathon ©Getty Images

In 1985 that distinction disappeared from Salazar’s CV when a re-measurement of the New York course found it to be around 148 metres short of the 42.195 kilometres (26 miles 385 yards) distance, equivalent to around 27 seconds.

Ironically, Australian runner Derek Clayton’s mark of 2:08.33 at Antwerp in 1969 had a disputed status due to suspicions of a short course.

But as he toed the line in Hopkinton, Salazar - born in Havana but brought up in the Boston suburb of Wayland - stood as the top dog and local hero. Ten days before running his first - and as it turned out, only - Boston Marathon, he had finished just two seconds behind the great Henry Rono of Kenya in a 10,000m at Eugene, Oregon, missing the US record by a second. It was fair to say he was race-sharp.

Interviewing his rival in 2003, Beardsley recalled: "When I’m standing at the front row, I see you off to my left, and right, Bill Rodgers. I was a little intimidated. I was thinking 'Wow, I’m alongside two of the greatest runners the world has ever seen in marathon.'

"And when that gun went off I swear it was as if you were shot out of a cannon. The other day I looked at my old logbook and I have on there that you went through the first mile in 4:33. I mean that first mile is downhill, but still…"

Salazar gave a little smile at the recollection. "I was aware of that…" he said.

Beardsley and his coach, Bill Squires, had a strategy concentrating on the course’s three main hills between miles 17 and 21, culminating in Heartbreak Hill. The main chance for the slight, fleet Minnesotan was to get away from the heavier Salazar by sprinting hard on the way up and even more importantly on the way down.

As John Brant recounted in his account of the race for Runners World in April 2004 - an article that would form the basis of his highly successful book Duel in the Sun, published two years later - Beardsley had prepared in Georgia because it had hills similar to the Boston course before arriving in the city to complete a key workout on Heartbreak Hill.

The task was to run up one side of Heartbreak Hill and down the other flat-out, eight times in a row. This he duly did. In a blizzard.

By the 13-mile marker in the race the lead pack consisted of Beardsley, Salazar, Rodgers and Ed Mendoza, all Americans.

By mile 17 Rodgers was fading from the race, and Mendoza dropped away soon after. It was all about two men. The world number one and, as one newspaper had described him the previous day, "the country bumpkin from Minnesota".

And the country bumpkin took the narrowest of leads that he would hold for the next nine miles.

Beardsley surged and slowed, surged and slowed. Salazar covered every move, so close that his shadow was constantly evident to his rival as the sun behind them grew ever more brutal.

The underdog ran Heartbreak Hill as per - but there was no heartbreak for Salazar. Still he padded on, intent, waiting on the leader’s shoulder.

By now local TV viewers were being drawn out to watch this growing spectacle. The crowds along the course grew deeper for a race that was eventually estimated to have attracted two million spectators.

In boxing terms, Beardsley had hit Salazar with his best shot, and his rival hadn't flinched. All he could do now was try and stay in the ring and hope for inspiration. Five more miles to go though…

Let Beardsley take up the story.

"As we ran up Heartbreak Hill the crowds were so thick there was barely enough room for Alberto and me to run side by side.

"When I got to the bottom of that hill, honest to God, I could no longer feel my legs. The thought of having to run five more miles at that pace or faster. I didn’t think I could do it. It was almost making me sick to my stomach just to think about it.

"But I knew this. I knew no matter how bad I was hurting, I knew I could suck it up enough to go one more mile. And I was able to have my brain convince my body that all I had to do was run one more mile.

"Next thing I know I see the 22-mile mark and I said it again. 'One more mile, Dick and you are going to win this Boston Marathon.'

"And boom there was the 23rd and 24th. And I said it again. At this point the crowds were so loud you couldn’t even hear yourself think. Next thing I look down and I see in blue and gold paint, it said '25.2 miles' and below that it said 'One mile to go'.

"At that point I got so weak-kneed and rubber-legged I didn’t know if I would be able to go another step. I knew my mom and dad were back home in Minnesota watching it on television, and I said 'Man, Dick you got to get your mind off your mom and dad! Think about something else!'

"I finally thought back to a terrible blind date I once went on in high school. I knew it would come in handy, and it did! And I got my mind off my mom and dad, back into the race.

"And with about 900 to 1,000 metres to go I had to biggest lead I’d had all day. Maybe a metre and a half. And I knew Salazar didn’t have much of a kick but I knew he had a lot better one than I did.

"And I’m thinking 'Dick, you've got to somehow shake him and put in a surge like you’ve never done before.' And with that I pushed off with my right leg and as I did I got the biggest Charlie Horse in my right hamstring.  I mean that hamstring knot was bulging right out, it nearly sent me right up in the air.

"And I remember grabbing my hamstring and rubbing it, and as I did Salazar, seeing that, went flying by me. In no time he had 10 yards, then 20, then 50, then 75 and then 100. And I’m thinking 'Holy Cow. Don’t give up. Just keep moving, Dick. As long as you are moving towards the finish line you still have a chance.'

"And let me tell you I learned more about myself in the last two and a half minutes of that race that have helped me through so many situations in my life. As I’m moving along and Alberto is getting further and further away, it’s about not giving up, and the crowd was stepping back to let me come by, and wouldn’t you know it - my right foot found a pothole.

"I stumbled, nearly fell down, but when I did it kind of jerked my leg, and when it did that it pretty much popped the knot right out. Now I had my stride back! Problem was we are down now to about 600 metres to go.

"I looked up ahead and I couldn’t see Alberto but I could see the flashing blue light on the back of a motorcycle policeman. I was thinking 'Dick, you could probably walk in from here and get second.

"'If you get second and give it your very, very best you can hold your head high. But if you don’t give very last ounce of energy you’ll regret it for the rest of your life…' and I started pumping my arms, and lifting my legs, and the next thing I know I felt like I was on a magic carpet.

"And pretty soon this lead Salazar has on me, it’s shrinking, every step I take, and I’m weaving my through the spectators that have come onto the course, through the motorcycles, almost got butt-ended by a horse!

"And I’m coming up the very last hill before a left-hand turn, after which there’s about a 150 metres sprint to the finish line.

"We are just coming up to the top of that hill, the first motorcycle policeman turns left, he’s headed for the finish line, the second one does the same, Alberto Salazar is now turning for the finish, the third bike goes to the left also, but the fourth motorbike, he doesn’t know I’m back in the race.

"And instead of turning left he decides to cut out to the right and he cuts me right off. I can’t get by him. I’m going to the right trying my best to get around his bike.

"Afterwards people said to me: 'Dick, you would have won that Boston Marathon if that motorcycle policeman had not gotten in your way.' Boy, you talk about the perfect excuse that everybody would have believed!

"I mean, the people that were on that corner watching that happening. The next morning in the paper there was a picture of me having to go way wide around that motorbike. The folks watching on television saw it happening. Everybody would have believed it except the person it mattered to most. And that was me.

"Did that motorcycle policeman get in my way? No question about it. But you know what? I got around him. And with about 100 metres to go I caught back up to Alberto, and when it comes down to it, plain and simple, I just got outkicked."

Alberto Salazar finished a disappointing 15th in the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic marathon.
Alberto Salazar finished a disappointing 15th in the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic marathon. "After Boston I was never quite the same," he said ©Getty Images

After having the winner’s laurel wreath placed on his head, Salazar gestured to Beardsley and then raised the right arm of his rival. It was a gesture Beardsley has always remembered.

"I tell you what that meant a lot to me, and it’s a race that I will never forget," he told Salazar in 2003.

Salazar responded: "Same for me. I had other races but I look back at Boston and it's probably been the epitome of what running should be all about. Two guys going all out against each other, and when it’s over it’s over, and you are friends again."

But Salazar, who had looked back behind him in apparent dismay to see the rapidly closing figure of his rival before finding something within himself to drive over the final few metres, was in bad shape. Again.

Writing on Boston Tour Guide, a race official recalled how he had been at the finish line of the 1978 Falmouth Road Race where a 20-year-old Salazar appeared on the brink of beating the then pre-eminent Rodgers only to succumb to heat stroke, exhaustion and dehydration in the closing stages, staggering home as runners flew by him.

"At the finish line, Salazar’s near-lifeless body was carried off to the medical tent, and I watched as my friend was immersed in a tub of ice; IV tubes were plugged into both arms," the official wrote. "His body temperature had spiked to 107 degrees; his father stood over him holding rosary beads, praying, while a priest was called over to give him last rights (sic). Several hours later a group of us sat under the tents enjoying a few beers provided by the race sponsor. Alberto was with us looking pretty damn good, all things considered."

It was a pattern that persisted for Salazar. "I viewed every marathon as a test of my manhood," he recalled. "It wasn’t enough for me to win the race; I wanted to bury the other guys.

"I used to put a lot of pressure on myself, probably more than I should have, probably more than was healthy."

The Boston Marathon has not been held on Patriots' Day since 2019 ©Getty Images
The Boston Marathon has not been held on Patriots' Day since 2019 ©Getty Images

His startling accomplishments gave rise to some inevitable speculation about whether he was using performance-enhancing drugs, a charge he consistently denied. But Salazar seemed strangely unwilling to take on that most performance-enhancing substance during races, namely water.

"We had no aid stations back then," Beardsley recalled in a talk he gave about the 1982 race. "There were no energy gels. You got water from wherever you could get it from. From spectators."

Beardsley had taken advantage of the offers in Boston. Salazar, markedly, had not. In the aftermath of the race he collapsed and had to be taken to an emergency room and given six litres of saline solution intravenously.

"After Boston I was never quite the same," he reflected to Brant many years later. "I had a few good races, but everything was difficult. Workouts that I used to fly through became an ordeal. And eventually, of course, I got so sick that I wondered if I’d ever get well.

"It took me a long time to connect the dots," he added, "and see that the line stretched all the way back to Boston."

Although Salazar won a third New York title later that year, and qualified for the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic marathon, where he finished 15th, the trend was downhill. He failed to reach the 1988 Olympics.

The following year of 1989 saw Beardsley’s top-class career ended through a hideous accident involving farm machinery that almost killed him, leaving him with a shattered leg and numerous other injuries.

As a consequence of that trauma, and several other serious injuries he sustained in car accidents and falls in subsequent years, Beardsley became addicted to pain-killing medication, eventually being arrested in 1996 for forging prescriptions.

He was given five years' probation and spent nine days in a psychiatric unit where he was given methadone. In October 2007 he founded the Dick Beardsley Foundation to offer help to drug addicts unable to afford the standard 12-step treatment programme.

In 2010 he and his second wife, Jill, had to file for bankruptcy. In 2015 his adopted son, Andrew, a veteran of the war in Iraq, committed suicide aged 31.

Beardsley continues with motivational speaking and also runs a fishing guide service and a bed and breakfast with his wife in Minnesota.

The Boston Red Sox are wearing Boston Marathon-inspired uniforms this weekend ©Getty Images
The Boston Red Sox are wearing Boston Marathon-inspired uniforms this weekend ©Getty Images

Salazar’s post-Boston path has been equally dramatic and traumatic by turn as he rose to the heights as a coach before suffering a catastrophic fall.

His coaching career, which began in 1996, soon became questionable when his athlete Mary Decker, who had qualified for the 5,000m at that year’s Atlanta Olympics aged 37, returned inadmissible levels of testosterone in a urine test. After three years of legal wrangling the International Association of Athletics Federation won its case at arbitration and she was retrospectively stripped of the 1500m silver medal she had won at the 1997 World Championships.

In 2001, Salazar joined with Nike to set up the Nike Oregon Project, designed to reinvigorate American distance running - to the point where, for instance, male marathon runners were matching the times he and Beardsley were running 20 years earlier.

At the London 2012 Olympics two of his top performers, Britain’s Mo Farah and American Galen Rupp, won gold and silver respectively in the 10,000 metres, with Farah also winning the 5,000m. A smiling Salazar was pictured with his two bemedalled charges. It was to prove a high point.

In 2015, Salazar was named in a joint BBC Panorama and ProPublica investigation into doping allegations. In 2019 he was banned for four years from athletics for anti-doping infringements involving athletes he coached and the Nike Oregon Project was shut down in the wake of the controversy.

No athletes involved were shown to have taken banned drugs, but Salazar had been involved in questionable experimentation including giving testosterone to his son Alex to see how quickly it cleared his system, claiming he needed to have an idea of what the possible consequences might be if his runners was sabotaged by other parties.

Salazar appealed his doping ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which upheld his four-year ban on September 16 2021. The CAS stated that he was found guilty of "possessing testosterone… and tampering with the doping control process." The CAS added: "None of the ADRVs (anti-doping rule violations) directly affected athletic competition, and... there was no evidence put before the CAS as to any effect on athletes competing at the elite level."

Alberto Salazar, centre, was at the top of the coaching world at the London 2012 Olympics with Mo Farah, right, and Galen Rupp, respective 10,000m gold and silver medallists ©Getty Images
Alberto Salazar, centre, was at the top of the coaching world at the London 2012 Olympics with Mo Farah, right, and Galen Rupp, respective 10,000m gold and silver medallists ©Getty Images

In January 2020, Salazar’s professional life further collapsed when the United States Center for SafeSport placed him on its temporarily banned list while it investigated allegations involving sexual and emotional misconduct.

SafeSport permanently banned him 18 months later, in July 2021, after it found that Salazar had committed four violations involving emotional and sexual misconduct.

In December 2021, Salazar appealed the ban in arbitration but lost, making him permanently ineligible for any activity overseen by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) or any sport's USOPC-recognised national governing body.

So far away, that April day…

"That day Alberto and I were both fortunate to break the American record and the course record," Beardsley recalled. "It was the first time that two men had ever gone under 2:09:00 in the same marathon. I was second by two seconds. One one thousand, two one thousand… Wow.

"Was I disappointed? I was. But very, very briefly. When I stopped and got to think about it a little bit, whatever it is you do, run a race, do your job, be with your family, whatever, if you know that at the end of the day you gave it 100 per cent you can’t do any better than that.

"I can’t speak for Al, but I know for me neither one of us ever ran that well again. I know I left a piece of me on that race course that day. But I’ll tell you this, if I had to leave a piece of me on a race course I can’t imagine a better place than at the Boston Marathon."