London, England – News here in the U.K. is just as Boston focused as everywhere else in the aftermath of Monday’s marathon bombings and today’s firefight and manhunt in Watertown, Mass., even as the Virgin London Marathon prepares for its own 33rd start this Sunday morning in Blackheath. But having staged an Olympic Games last year, and dealt with the IRA troubles for so many decades before that, London officials feel they have a good handle on security for the marathon. Notwithstanding, the police presence for Sunday’s London Marathon will increase by 40% from 2012, according to Scotland Yard.
“It’s about making sure that the people who come to London on Sunday feel safe when they are in the city,” said Chief Superintendent Julia Pendry who has headed security at the London Marathon for the last five years.
London race officials expect 35,000 runners on Sunday, and said they will donate £2 for every finisher to the One Fund Boston. There will also be 30-seconds of silence before the start on Sunday as a mark of respect for the victims of Monday’s attack in Boston.
As always, industry leaders from around the world are on hand in London. I spoke with Bank of America Chicago Marathon race director Carey Pinkowski moments ago about the consequences of the Boston bombings on his event.
“The Chicago Marathon is 5 ½ months away,” he began, “but we have been in constant contact with city officials, and security is at the top of the list, the #1 concern. But though we prepare, we never thought it would happen. It’s like a parallel universe. Any of us who has stood at the finish line of a race, whether the local turkey day trot waiting for a friend, family member or relative, or at a major marathon watching the best in the world, we know that is a special place. To turn that upside down…
“This is my 23rd year as race director, and safety is what we start with. But for surveillance, etcetera, we have absolute site lines at Grand Park (start-finish areas). Plus, there are police officers at every race intersection, and we have 13,000 volunteers. But our number one attribute is our spectators. Since 9-11 when all our lives changed there is that ‘see something, say something’ mentality which is now part of our culture.
“I flew back home on Monday night from Boston, and there were 20 — 25 runners on the plane with me, and every one of them came up and said, ‘don’t flinch, don’t blink, don’t give in. Even if I can’t run, I’ll be there. We are all in this’. I think people are more motivated than ever. Our volunteer response has ratcheted up. Our sponsors have all reached out. There has been an outpouring for the fund-raising effort. It’s the spirit of the sport. Not only will people come, I anticipate having more entry requests than ever for this year’s race.”
While there have already been a number of ad hoc runner memorial gatherings in Chicago, New York, San Diego and many other cities around the country this week, Carey indicated that there will be several more scheduled around the Chicago land area next Monday. It seems the pain and suffering inflicted on the world’s oldest marathon and the world’s most basic sport still requires the salve of mutuality and the bandage of a unified expression of support.
I have already heard people suggest that the Boston Athletic Association should treat the 2014 Boston Marathon like they did the 1996 100th anniversary race by opening entries to any and all who want to run. The outpouring of affection and support will be massive. We already know that Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillvray and his staff can handle a big number. What better way to show those who wish the world harm that the sport of all humanity is ready to stand and run in proud defiance in the name of our collective good will?