A former sports editor of mine used to remind his writers from time to time that ‘tragedies’ did not happen on the sports field. What he was referring to was, for example, a non-league footballer slipping on his arse in front of goal rather than equalising against Manchester United in the last minute of a cup-tie, thus ensuring a massive ‘earner’ for the tiny club back at Old Trafford. It might be (with a nod to the Ancient Greek dramatists) a farce, but it certainly wasn’t a tragedy.
The same goes for the 11th hour cancellation of the New York Marathon.
Hurricane Sandy was both a catastrophe for the people displaced by the super-storm, and a tragedy for those who lost family members and friends throughout the Americas and Caribbean.
But, waiting until Friday afternoon, when thousands of people had already arrived in New York from abroad and out of town, and thousands more were setting out to pick up their numbers for a Sunday event they had been assured earlier in the week was definitely going to take place (and even serve as an example of fortitude) was crass bad management.
No matter that the city’s mayor had green-lighted the race earlier in the week, recalling a similar situation in the wake of 9/11 (albeit weeks, rather than days afterwards); and it took the prurience of tabloid newspaper editors (abetted by 1000s of netizens) to force a climb-down, this should still have been foreseen.
US Olympic marathoner Abdi Abdirahman puts a pertinent and balanced question, and comment, “I understand the cancellation, and at the same time, I don’t understand the cancellation. I think this would have brought some excitement and a little bit of normalcy to the city. You have to return to normal at some point”.
For the thousands of fun-runners who have shelled out thousands of dollars for the privilege of competing, it is a hard blow to take; even New Yorkers who live down the street had to pay an inflated 200+ bucks entry fee. But what of the elite race, which helps bring in the kudos, and was in fact the determining event for the destination of a half-million dollars in extra prize money for winning the women’s section of the Marathon Majors ‘series’ of five big races worldwide (the men’s series is already won)?
If there is a ‘can-do’ nation on earth, it is the USA, and New York is its ‘can-do’ city par excellence. Races are held in Central Park virtually every weekend of the year. Indeed, that is where the NYC Marathon started life in1970; its first half dozen years were spent running round the park, before it went out into the boros.
Surely it is not beyond the wit and capacity of the organisers (and the mayor) to give the immediate go-ahead for a four-lap elite race around Central Park within the coming days. If bad weather can delay a US Open (and Wimbledon) tennis final until Monday, then the kudos gained from the cancellation can only be augmented if the speedsters are allowed to go through their paces in the Park as soon as possible. Even TV, originally planning to show the race nationwide for the first time in decades, would have an extra reason to carry it live across the country.