Boston Marathon Gets Wired

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BOSTON -- With temperatures expected to hit 80 degrees here Monday, running the 108th Boston Marathon may be an even greater challenge than usual for the thousands expected to compete this year. But technology behind the scenes--and on all of those runners--will make it easier than ever for spectators lining the racecourse to track their favorite athletes. Even if you aren't in town, you can follow the race online and see the results when it's all over.

All of the official entrants in the 2004 Boston Marathon are being issued a ChampionChip, a small token that is either tied onto the runner's shoe or attached to a wheelchair (the event draws dozens of wheelchair entrants). These chips time the runners at various points throughout the race, including the starting line, where the volume of entrants can delay some participants for at least several minutes. As a runner crosses stationary mats located throughout the race, the time is recorded.

The chips then deliver the runner's race time to family and friends via the Athlete Alert program. They also help prevent an incident like the one in 1980, when entrant Rosie Ruiz was the first woman runner to cross the finish line. It was later discovered she had not run the entire race course, but only the last half-mile. The ChampionChips ensure that runners cross all of the course checkpoints.

Wireless Updates

The chips contain Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID technology. This transmits the runner's time at the checkpoints to databases operated by the Boston Athletic Association and its technology partners, Hewlett-Packard and Verizon Wireless.

Each runner can let six of friends and family members sign up for the Athlete Alert program. They will receive automatic updates of their runner's progress via e-mail. Alerts can even go to text message-enabled phones, so spectators on the racecourse will know when to expect their runner to pass.

Verizon Wireless has been testing the race route for the past month, to ensure spectators will be able to receive text messages without service interruptions.

"You know the guy you see on TV saying 'Can you hear me now?'? Well, that's how we really do it," says Wendy Bulawa, a Verizon Wireless spokesperson. "We drove the length of the marathon route and tested the wireless coverage, and it's worked out seamlessly."

If your favorite runner did not sign you up for Athlete Alerts, you can still use the Web site to keep watch. You can enter a runner's name or bib number to track her or his progress online.

On-Site Assistance

HP also will have 75 volunteers lining the marathon route, equipped with iPaq handhelds. These volunteers can answer spectator questions, and will use their iPaqs to access the same runner tracking information. Again, you'll need to know your runner's bib number.

For the second year in a row, will expand its free Wi-Fi network near the finish line of the race. The company will use three vehicles--a Buell motorcycle, a Lexus, and a Nissan Exterra--equipped with antennas to offer wireless Internet connections to spectators in the Newbury Street area. The vehicles will be parked as close as possible to the race course, and anyone within 150 feet of the vehicles should be able to access the Wi-fi connection for free, says Michael Oh, the president and founder of Tech SuperPowers, the company behind

The 2004 Boston Marathon starts in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. The Wheelchair Division starts at 11:25 a.m., Elite Women start at 11:31 a.m., and Elite Men and the rest of the runners start at noon.

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