In Wake Of Boston Tragedy, London Marathon Set For Sunday

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British police officers guard the Mall in central London where the London Marathon finish line will be on Sunday. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)
British police officers guard the Mall in central London where the London Marathon finish line will be on Sunday. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

“The London Marathon is shocked and deeply saddened by the news from Boston and the terrible atrocity that happened at the Boston Marathon. It’s an awful day for Boston, but also for the family of athletics,” said London Marathon Chief Executive Nick Bitel.

Though it is 84 years younger than the Boston Marathon, this weekend's London Marathon has become a major attraction for both runners and spectators. Owen Gibson of The Guardian joined Bill Littlefield from London to discuss the upcoming race.

BL: London authorities, of course, have some very recent experience with the Olympics and the attendant security. Did that make it easier for Bitel and others to decide to hold the London Marathon as planned?

OG: I’m sure the confidence they gained from the Olympics last summer may have been a factor. I mean some of the marathon organizers were very heavily involved in putting on the marathon during the Olympics and certainly when the sports minister spoke about the issue he certainly cited the Olympics, and the fact we had managed to carry that off gave him some comfort. But as lots of people here have pointed out this week as well, you know, you can never entirely secure a 26-mile course. That was one of the reasons why the marathon and the cycling road race were the two things that I think worried organizers and security experts most ahead of the Olympics. So I mean I think on the one hand it does give comfort but on the other hand everyone’s aware that you can’t ever make anything 100 percent safe

BL: What was the reaction in London when it news arrived there of Monday's attack?

OG: Well shock that not only a sporting event had been targeted but a mass-participation sporting event, if you like. That was very much the first reaction, the fact that, you know, not only was this a sporting event but the fact that it was the recreational end of it, if you like, that was targeted. And then I think, you know, kind of a deep sense of empathy and sympathy, obviously. I mean we’ve seen a real outpouring of that this week. And the fact that this other marathon was so close I think sort of heightened that and given a sense of a focused, in a sense, I think there will be an element of sort of people running in sympathy and in solidarity and in sort of defiance.

BL: You’ve spoken of sympathy and of empathy. I wonder, has London planned a special tribute to Boston?

OG: Yeah, there’s a few things that have been officially organized if you like and other things that seem to be sort of bubbling up on social media and that sort of thing. I mean organizers have decided that everybody who’s running will be offered a black ribbon along with a race number to wear on their clothing. They’re also going to hold periods of silence before each start and then there’s this social media campaign for runners to cover their heart with their hand as they cross the finish line, which I think is quite a nice, quite simple gesture, and then that seems to be getting a lot of support as well, so I think you’ll see other sort of expressions of sympathy from individual runners as well.

BL: You have written that the London Marathon has "become part of the capital's beating heart." Give us a sense of how that has become apparent.

OG: Well, I mean, I think that’s the case with a lot of those other big-city marathons. It’s interesting, as I’ve gotten to know a bit more about the Boston Marathon this week in particular, I’ve never been myself, but I think it kind of it captures a lot of this feeling—maybe kind of was the genesis for the template for a lot of these big-city marathons around the world that kind of very much reflect their city and yet they have an international feel as well. And in London’s case, you know, it goes past all the major landmarks, of course, and kind of is this great showcase for the city. But I think a lot more than that it becomes more than the sum of its parts. I mean because it’s not so much about the runners or the crowd, it’s about the synthesis of both of them and people who would never, you know, get within a million miles of a marathon line the streets then go to the pub early, you get bands out playing, the sun often shines, you get kids out in the street and all that stuff. It’s quite an atmosphere.

BL: There have been outpourings of support from around the world, particularly from the other five major marathon sites; Berlin, Chicago, New York, Tokyo and, of course, London. Has the international running community taken the Boston attacks personally? 

OG: Absolutely. Again it’s one of the interesting things about the sort of international community of marathon distance runners, they seem to feel a real kind of sense of community, and you know, an attack on one marathon seems to almost feel like an attack on all of them because people do compete internationally. People I know who have sponsored the London Marathon some years ago have then gone on to do other marathons around the world. And you see the sponsorship requests coming in and there’s a real feeling of community among not only the organizers of these marathons, these six marathons around the world, but also among those who run them. And I suppose, you know, it’s something about the pursuit of marathon running, the amount of training you have to put in, the sort of dedication you have to devote to it that means that they feel a real sort of sense of community with their fellow marathon runners.

This segment aired on April 20, 2013.


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