Track is my field: International track and field blog featuring storytelling, commentary, and predictions and event analyses for the Olympics and World Championships.
Reporting from the World Junior Championships in Eugene, OR, July 22-27.
The 1968 US Men’s Olympic track and field team, arguably the
greatest ever assembled, was honored Friday, June 27, with the recognition of the Echo
Summit, CA, US Men’s Track and Field Olympic Trials and high-altitude training
site as a California Historical Landmark.
A crowd of several hundred gathered to celebrate the track
and field legends who put their stamp on US social, cultural, and athletic history.
Members of the ’68 team in attendance were Tommie Smith,
John Carlos, Ed Caruthers, Norm Tate, Reynaldo Brown, Larry Young, Tracy Smith,
Mel Pender, Ed Burke, Geoff Vanderstock, and Bill Toomey. Smith and Carlos were
the featured speakers.
Four world records were set during the Olympic Trials at the
7382’ elevation of the Echo Summit site, chosen for its nearly identical
elevation to that of Olympic host Mexico City.
The ceremony was at the same time touching and moving, high-spirited
and celebratory. It had the look and feel of a family reunion. The eloquent
remarks of the speakers were greeted with repeated and sustained standing ovations
by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowd.
Bob Burns, former Sacramento Bee reporter and the force
behind the recognition of Echo Summit, said, “Few teams mirrored the social
climate of their times as much as the ’68 Olympic track team did the 1960s.”
Jill Geer, USATF Chief Public Affairs Officer, cited “the
importance of these people not only to sport but to society.” Geer pointed out
that while the team is rightly noted for its 12 Olympic gold medalists, 20 of
its team members have been inducted into the USATF Hall of Fame. “This team was
so good that you didn’t have to win a gold medal to make it to the Hall of
California state historian William Burg said that of over
1,000 California historic sites, Echo Summit is “the only one associated with
both sports and civil rights history.”
South Lake Tahoe Mayor Pro-Tem Brooke Laine paid tribute to
Walt Little, South Lake Tahoe’s Recreation Director in the 1950s and ‘60s, who was
instrumental in convincing Bill Bowerman, Director of the US Olympic High
Altitude Training Program, to accept the Echo Summit bid.
Little’s sons, Walt Jr. and Bill, in a stirring memorial,
revealed that their family had lost their house as their father had used
mortgage funds to help pay for athletes’ food.
Walt Little, Jr., said that their father was motivated
“because of the Olympians and what they stood for. Dad carved his dream of a
track and field arena out of the ice, the snow, and the trees. Echo Summit
became the most beautiful track and field arena the world has ever seen.”
John Carlos lauded Little as “an icon in the world of
“We are proud to have been a small part of your success,” Little,
Jr., said to the assembled athletes. “Welcome home.”
When Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medal
winners in the Mexico City 200m, took the victory stand and raised their
glove-covered fists in silent protest, I was awestruck at the peaceful
eloquence of their statement.
They spoke to the whole world without uttering a single
The next day, the US Olympic Committee, under threat by the
IOC of having the entire US team disqualified from the Olympics, dismissed
Smith and Carlos from the team and they were forced to leave Mexico City
My youth was marked by political violence: the assassination
of the President when I was 11 and of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert
Kennedy when I was 16. Shortly before the Olympic Trials began, there were
riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Upon the opening of the
Olympics in Mexico City, protests there were brutally suppressed. The 1963
March on Washington was peaceful, but by 1968 there was a growing divide in
both the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements over what kinds of action
That discussion was reflected in the choices made by
athletes at Echo Summit. To boycott the Olympics or not? African-American
athletes were under heavy pressure to do so. But all made the same choice: to
represent their country in Mexico City.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos have been united for life by
their singular act as young men. They have traversed the territory from
outcasts to heroes. Their “protest on the victory stand in Mexico City is one
of the iconic images of the 1960s and the civil rights movement,” said Burns.
After their peaceful protest, Smith and Carlos paid a heavy
personal price, and it was common to find them denounced in the US media for
what were characterized as unpatriotic acts.
“Mr. Smith and I, in particular, we were vilified.”
Carlos noted the irony of the fact that now they are
regarded as patriots and said, “All
the individuals on this team are patriots… In many ways they tried to divide
our team: these guys are civil rights activists, these guys are athletes. These
guys are for a boycott, these guys are not for a boycott.”
“I’m just here to let
you know now that we are one. We have been one all along.”
Smith and Carlos reflected on their days at Echo Summit.
Both expressed gratitude and appreciation to the US Forest Service for their
support of the ‘100 Days at Tahoe’ in 1968 as well as Friday’s ceremony. “Look
around and you see the goodness,” Smith said to the many youth foresters who
staffed the event. “My heart is so full now.”
Smith remembered what it was like to take the turn from
Highway 50 to the track at Echo Summit.
“I hated to see that turn because that meant I had to train
against him, and to train against John Carlos is no fun at all! You would have
to run a world best just to stay in his shadow,” said Smith.
Smith noted the humor that came with practicing at a site
that was carved out of a forest. When Bob Seagren came down from a 17’ pole
vault clearance, Smith recalled, “I thought he had fallen out of a tree!”
To say that they raised the bar for each other is to put it
mildly. “Tommie and John had to run awfully fast to put themselves in a
position to mount a protest that will outlast any record,” said Burns.
Carlos paid tribute to the US athletes who watched the
Olympics from home.
'I have to remember those individuals who did not make the
team… It’s just unfortunate that God put so many of us in a cluster and we
could only pick three. But it didn’t stop us in terms of who we were as human
beings... as civil libertarians... as people that were
concerned about humanity.'
Smith reflected on his remaining time on this earth. “I hope
that it’s longer than I feel sometimes… Sometimes you get up in the morning,
you head for the door - and it never gets to you!”
Carlos concluded by noting that “the only downfall that we
had here is the fact that we didn’t have a co-ed team. It was a shame that the
women that represented this nation did not have a chance to experience the
beauty, the love, the understanding and bonding that we had.”
In 1968, their silent
act of courage echoed around the world; it reverberates still.
Today, it echoed
among these trees, one last time.
US track and field enthusiasts – and shot put devotees in
particular – have been treated to two engaging fan experiences this past
At the Prefontaine Classic, the men’s Diamond League shot put was
opened to the Distance Night in Eugene crowd, and hundreds of fans streamed
onto the infield and watched putters from mere meters away.
Sacramento’s memorable backdrop was the State Capitol
building, a spectacular location if you can get it. In an imaginative and
inspired approach to engaging capital city office workers who had never seen a
track and field event before, meet officials were big winners when it came to
bringing new fans to the sport.
In Eugene, track fans already were inside the stadium when
they were invited to join the throwers. When it came to preaching to the choir,
the choir sang from the infield.
The energy of the Sacramento competition was so high that it
might actually have adversely affected the competition itself. Men’s practice
throws over 72 feet were the order of the day, yet in the competition itself there
were only two throws over 70’. Even winner Joe Kovacs said in his post-meet interview
to the crowd that he might have saved more for the event itself.
Props to the person who chose the music, as the loud,
insistent beat of 70s and 80s rock anthems did much to create the energy of the
event. What’s a shot competition without a little Ozzy Osbourne and Black
Sabbath? This is not a question I ever thought I’d be asking myself. It was
especially fun to match songs to performances; for example, when Albert
Fournette took the ring, he found himself spinning to “You Give Love a Bad
Name.” Would that be appropriate for a world record or a foul?! He fouled.
It must strike the rest of the athletics world as odd that
the United States would hold its national championships in a facility that cannot accomodate throwing events (update 6/28: except the discus) inside the stadium. This should especially be a
major consideration when it comes to the awarding of future US Olympic Trials,
though even repeated Trials host Eugene has the hammer adjacent to Hayward
Field. Where does the hammer go if Eugene wins its bid for the World
Nonetheless, Sacramento meet organizers can bask in the
glory of Wednesday’s tremendous success. If Sacramento wins the US Olympic
Trials, I’m just trying to imagine where the hammer would go. The Capital Mall
landscapers might object.
As I was picking up my car at Sacramento International Airport this afternoon, I struck up a conversation with a kind, engaging, and enthusiastic man, and I told him why I came here today.
He seemed quite interested in the national championships, and after a few moments I thought to ask him, "Are you a track fan?"
"Well, yes," he replied, "my cousin is Lee Evans."
In case you're a couple of years younger than I am, here is some context:
Lee Evans won the 400m gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics in a world record time of 43.86. He then anchored the 4x400m relay squad to a gold medal in a world record time of 2:56.1.
The accomplishments of the US athletes at the 1968 Olympic Trials - at which 4 world records were set - will be celebrated this Friday, 6/27, at 10:30am at Echo Summit, California, with the dedication of the track and field site as a California State Historic Site.
Ceremonies begin at 10:30am, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos are among the speakers.
Directions from the Sacramento Bee:
"The entrance for the event, which will begin at 10:30 a.m.,
is on the south side of Highway 50, 3 miles east of the entrance to Sierra at Tahoe ski area,
and is marked by an Adventure Mountain sign."
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/06/22/6494672/this-week-olympic-sprinters-return.html#storylink=cpy
After last night’s
dazzling 10,000m American Record by Galen Rupp, there is heightened
anticipation about the possibility of a world record at today’s Prefontaine
Many look to France’s
Renaud Lavillenie, newly minted world record holder in the pole vault, to accomplish
outdoors what he did indoors in Donetsk, Ukraine, in January, in front of
previous WR holder Sergey Bubka. He ended the venerable Bubka’s nearly 21-year
reign as world record holder when he soared to 20’2 ½”, 6.16m.
Key question of the
day here in Eugene: which way will the wind be blowing?
In what is still a developing event, the steeplechase could steal headlines today. Emma Coburn (US) ran a brilliant race in Shanghai two weeks ago to win the first Diamond League steeple of the season. World Champion Milcah Chemos (Kenya) leads four women from Ethiopia and Kenya with bests within 11 seconds of the world record. It may be early in the season for a world record; expect at least a very substantial list revision.
The men’s Bowerman
mile closes this meet. One of the greatest traditions in track and field, this
race is highlighted by one of the finest fields ever assembled outside of an
Olympic or World Championships final.
With the last two
Olympic gold medalists in the field - Asbel Kiprop (Kenya) and Taoufik Makhloufi
(Morocco), and the last two world champions (that would be Asbel Kiprop and Asbel
Kiprop) – as well as ever-fast Silas Kiplagat who upset Kiprop by .05 here last year,
this race is ripe for at least the fastest-ever men’s mile on US soil. Daniel
Komen’s 3:48.28 from this meet in 2007 is nervous.
And the rarely run
women’s two mile features 2013 World Championships medalists Belaynesh Olgira
and Mercy Cherono; 2007 World 1500m Champ Maryam Jusuf Jamal brings 3:56 speed
to this event.
Meanwhile, in the
All-Name competition, the women’s steeple features Purity Kirui and Gesa
Felicitas Krause. Purity vs felicity? If only Mercy Cherono had entered this
30th Anniversary Commemoration of the 1984 Women’s Olympic
How the West Was Won
The upset took place before the race began:
Olympia 22 – New York City 14.
Olympia was a dark horse if ever there was one.
Laurel James, who conceived of the idea of an Olympia, WA,
bid for the 1984 US Women’s Olympic Trials Marathon, says the most commonly asked
question at the ’82 Athletics Congress Trials bid meeting in Philadelphia was:
People knew where the other finalists were: New York (Fred
Lebow, the New York Road Runners Club, the New York City Marathon), Buffalo
(which had already been awarded the US men’s marathon trials), Los Angeles
(which had been awarded ‘84’s biggest meet of all), and Kansas City. Each of
these bids - but not Olympia’s - was supported by Avon, the then-dominant
sponsor of US women’s road running events.
Laurel James, a single mother of five sons, had first
approached the directors of the Capital City Marathon with the idea of hosting
“They were stunned,” says James.
They were even more stunned when James told them the bid deadline
was only weeks away.
Olympia pulled out all the stops. James’s oldest son, 29-year-old
Brent, put together a three-projector multi-media presentation, which US
Senator Slade Gorton narrated in person. A hospitality suite featured the best
of the Northwest, including oysters, cheese, thirty pounds of smoked salmon, three
cases of apples, and even a Douglas Fir. They also brought Olympia beer.
“One of our biggest challenges was getting the beer out of
the airport!” said James. She continued, “They announced it that day. We got
the bid and now we had to get to work.”
Originally scheduled for Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13, 1984,
the race was moved to the 12th after Brent James, who became the Trials
Executive Director, convinced ABC TV Sports to cover it. ABC came to realize
the importance of this race and put legendary director Craig Janoff in charge.
It was only fitting that this historic race - to qualify
three for the first women’s Olympic marathon - was awarded to a city named
The West Was Won by Volunteers: The
Spirit of Olympia
It is estimated that Olympia had 4,000-4,700 volunteers.
They had everything covered, from individually embroidered pillow cases for
each of the competitors to marshalls stationed in every driveway along the race
course. The pillowcases were donated by two local JC Penney stores. Four additional
stores donated the embroidery floss, and all the pillowcases were embroidered
Elementary school kids made posters for each athlete’s dorm
room, and former world record holder Bobbi Gibbs made the trophies for the
three qualifiers. The Bower family of Olympia owned an oyster bed and sponsored
an oyster and salmon bake.
Businesses and individuals could sponsor an athlete for $1,000.
Joan Benoit was sponsored by the Fredrick Hansen Paint
Company, Lisa Larsen by the Thurston County Recreational Vehicle Park, Marty Cooksey
by the Vance Tyee Motor Inn, local high school legend Gail Volk by Pacific
Northwest Bank, and Jane Wipf by Seattle developer Martin Selig (who also gave
the association free office space in downtown Seattle – an enormous savings). Through
these sponsorships, every athlete had her airfare paid.
Nike, not yet a major player in the sponsorship game,
sponsored a mile marker for $5,000.00.
Timber giant Weyerhaeuser and girls advocacy group Zonta
co-sponsored a pancake breakfast, odd bedfellows united in common cause. The USS
Marvin Shields docked at the Port of Olympia for tours during marathon weekend.
Larry Nielsen, the first American to summit Everest without the aid of
supplemental oxygen, gave a motivational speech.
Gretchen Christopher of the Fleetwoods performed, and she
wrote an anthem for the Trials: “Women Can Do.” Even trash bags were emblazoned
with the Trials logo, and volunteers were instructed on race day that their
duties were not complete until the course was immaculate.
In kind donations were so extensive that Board Chair Darlene
Hickman estimated they reduced the original cash budget of $1,000,000 to less
than half that.
Sign of the times: the athlete guidebook said, “Pay phones
are available in the lobby and on each floor of Barau Hall.”
Where was Barau Hall?
On the campus of St. Martin’s College in nearby Lacey.
Why were the dorm rooms available to the runners?
St. Martin’s started and ended school a month early to make
the campus available for the Marathon Trials.
A cartoon in the May 6, 1984, Olympian, shows two women
contestants. One says to the other, “They sure went to a lot of trouble for our
marathon here, didn’t they?”
Her compatriot replies, “I’ll say. I don’t think I’ve ever
run on a red carpet before!”
The West Was Won by Tough,
Resilient, Determined Women
1. Joan Benoit (ME) 2:31:04
2. Julie Brown (OR) 2:31:41
3. Julie Isphording (OH) 2:32:26
Joan Benoit’s pre-Trials trials are indeed the stuff of
legend. While training two months before the race, the heavy favorite suffered
the first major injury of her career. After seeking a variety of therapies, she
had arthroscopic surgery 17 days before race day. While it was very successful,
she returned to intensive training too soon and, overcompensating for her right
knee, strained her left hamstring.
It was treated with an early version of electrical
stimulation (by none other than Jack Scott, who had achieved a sort of infamy
by sheltering Patty Hearst during her kidnapping), and by May 12 Benoit was
nervous but ready to race.
She ran a classic Benoit strategy and led by 6 seconds at
the halfway mark, 38 at sixteen miles, and 68 seconds at twenty.
Pedal to the medal works every time.
Julie Brown, meanwhile, ran to make the team, and in a
carefully plotted and executed race, did exactly that. Overshadowed by the
drama surrounding Benoit, Brown’s brilliant race often does not receive the full
credit it so richly deserves.
The surprise of the day was Julie Isphording’s race to
third. Ipshording, who was rated a dark horse by virtually every observer but
herself, was 23rd at the half. She harbored her reserves and moved
up gradually until she burst forth with a 5:16 twenty-fifth mile. She later
said she did not know she was 3rd until half a mile to go.
Odds are her exuberant smile hasn’t left her yet.
I have always thought that Benoit won the ’84 Olympic gold
medal at Boston in ’83 and at the Trials in ‘84. The day before Boston, Grete
Waitz set the world record in London. Benoit’s nearly three minute dismantling
of that record one day after it was set by her most prominent rival struck fear
in the hearts of her competitors. For her then to win the Olympic Trials 17
days after knee surgery made her seem invincible.
There was odd geopolitical timing to the Olympia race. The
Soviet Union announced four days before that it would boycott the Los Angeles
Olympics. Trials competitors agreed, however, that their focus was on Norway,
not Russia: on Grete Waitz and Ingrid Kristiansen, who would finish 2nd and 4th
in Los Angeles.
Benoit won her Olympic gold medal in 2:24:52. Her
compatriots struggled that day as Julie Brown finished 36th in 2:47:33 while
Isphording had to drop out.
While much was rightly celebrated about the addition of the
women’s marathon to the Olympic Games, there was not yet complete equality in
the distance offerings. The women’s Olympic track events still stopped 3,000m in
1984 – no 5k or 10k – before jumping to the marathon. The 10k was added in ’88,
and the 3k became the 5k in ’96. There is still one inequality left, as women
have only the 20k race walk while men have Olympic opportunities at 50k as well
The West Was Won by Running Brave
Three American record holders ran in this race. Joan Benoit
held the world and American record at 2:22:43 from her magnificent ’83 Boston, a
mixed gender race. For a single gender race, none other than Julie Brown was
the American record holder at 2:26:26.
The third American record holder was Seattle’s Gail Volk.
She became the first US high school runner to break 2:40 when she set the
national high school record of 2:39:48 as a high school senior. She entered the
Trials race as the record holder but did not finish that way. Six minutes and
forty-five seconds before she crossed the finish line she was succeeded as national
record holder by 16 year old Cathy Schiro of New Hampshire. Schiro finished 9th
in 2:34:24, a national high school and US junior record that stands to this day
– and a world junior record at the time.
Of finishing a non-qualifying fourth at age 23, Lisa Larsen,
a former swimming champion, said, “It’s not the end of the world. I’m young
enough and I haven’t been at this a long time. There’s still ’88 and ’92.” She
became the only US marathoner to finish fourth in three consecutive Olympic
Trials. Nonetheless, Larsen, Boston champ in ’85, now holds the distinction of
having been the ‘last’ American woman to win that hallowed race.
Gabrielle Andersen of Sun Valley, ID, who had dual US/Swiss
citizenship, was originally entered to run but withdrew to run for her native
Switzerland. As a Swiss Olympian – Gabrielle Andersen-Scheiss – the two time
winner of the Seattle Marathon gained lasting fame when she staggered into the Los
Angeles Coliseum and limped to the finish line, dehydrated to the point of near
collapse. This generated energetic debate about whether or not she should have
been pulled from the race.
Nothing captures the spirit of Olympia’s magical day better than
this letter to The Olympian from
Michele H. Davis of St. Paul, Minnesota. She, along with Leatrice Hayer of
Greenfield, Massachusetts, finished last and second to last, respectively. They
had something distinctive in common:
“This letter is to the people of Olympia and all the
wonderful volunteers who helped with the Women’s Marathon Trials on May 12. As
a participant in the marathon, I would like to thank all the people who put so
much time and effort into making the whole experience a great one for us. Every
little detail you thought of was appreciated.
I was the very last finisher in an unofficial time of four
hours and one minute. It was a personal challenge for me, being six months
pregnant, to finish the marathon. To my amazement and my delight, you the
people of Olympia, supported my effort.
It was a moving experience for me to come so far behind the
rest of the runners and have so many of you still waiting along the streets to
cheer me on. I will never forget May 12, 1984, as long as I live. Thank you all
Voluminous thanks to my longtime friend, Laurel James, legendary
founder of Seattle’s Super Jock ‘n’ Jill running store (I shopped there the day
it opened over 38 years ago) who made her voluminous files and immaculate binders
available to me.
The Olympian of
Olympia, WA, whose coverage before as well as after the event was definitive. Multiple
writers deserve credit, including Roger Underwood, Abby Haight, and Bill
Jim Whiting, former editor of Northwest Runner, for his work
in the Trials media packet.
Jeff Baker of the Oregonian and Blaine Newnham of the
Trials Communications and Media Director Jeanne McKnight,
whose nugget-filled press releases are, to this day, a treasure trove of
valuable information about this landmark event.
Sixty years ago - May 8, 1954
- Parry O’Brien, the greatest male shot putter in history, broke the 60’
barrier. If ever he made a mistake, it was shattering 60’ two days after Roger
Bannister ran the first sub-4:00 minute mile. While the world was understandably
focused on Bannister, O’Brien did little to call attention to his own momentous
Certainly, breaking the 4:00 barrier
was to confer legendary status on the athlete first to accomplish it. Roger Bannister,
who had a relatively brief career, is rightly accorded that status for his
singular achievement. But while Bannister held his world record for 46 days,
O’Brien held the shot put world record for over 1,400 more.
O’Brien set world records a
staggering 17 times. Interestingly, the IAAF ratified only 10 of these. When O’Brien set multiple world records in the same meet - the most
famous of these when he broke the WR three times on June 11, 1954 - IAAF
ratified his best world record of the day.
Olympic gold medalist in ‘52
and ‘56, O’Brien won silver in ‘60 and finished 4th in ’64. He improved the
shot put world record by over four feet, from 59’ ¾” to 63’4”, a remarkable record
rewrite of 7.23%. His personal best of 64’ 7 ¼” came when he was 34; the world
record had by then been claimed by Randy Matson.
During his peak, O’Brien won
116 meets in a row, one of the greatest winning streaks in the history of track
and field. O’Brien earned the highest accolade an American amateur athlete can
win when he was recognized with the 1959 Sullivan Award. Perhaps the greatest
appreciation of all came when his 1964 Olympic teammates elected him flag bearer
for Opening Ceremonies in Tokyo.
Most of all, O’Brien was one
of the very few athletes to permanently alter his event. He pioneered “The
Glide” and was the first shot putter in history to make use of the entire ring.
In a 1955 Sports Illustrated article, Herman Hickman called O’Brien’s Glide
I met O’Brien at the Legends
of Gold Banquet, held in conjunction with the 10th World Athletics
Championships in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2001.
As I sat down at my table, I
was thrilled to see a placard with his name on it. I was considerably less
thrilled when, moments later, someone plucked it off our table and moved it to
an adjacent one. In a hall filled with 26 of the most notable track and field
gold medalists, ours was, sadly, a table without a legend.
Each legend was given a
rousing introduction by the emcee, Canadian television broadcaster, Brian
Williams. When he introduced Dick Fosbury, he said that Fosbury held the
singular distinction of being the only athlete in the room to have transformed
After dinner I went
downstairs and stood in long lines to have my moment with at least a few of
O’Brien sat leaning forward at
his table; it gave him a hunched effect: shoulders forward, head down.
O’Brien struck me as a shy
man of great depth.
We exchanged greetings, and
as he signed my program, I said, “Mr. O’Brien, many of us cringed tonight when
the announcer said that there was one person in the building who transformed an
event. Everyone knows there are two."
I had not anticipated how
deeply this would touch him; I think I had given voice to what he thought but could
With great emphasis, he said, “Thank you.”
He looked down quickly and then
“Thank you.” He was trying to tell me
“Thank you very much.” Parry O’Brien, an athlete dedicated
to his fitness for his entire life, passed away eight years later at 75 while
competing in a masters swimming event in his native California.
By the time I got to the Citgo sign, my dreams of a
PR at Boston were long gone. I had underhydrated on a cool day and severe
cramping put an end to my time goals. By the 23rd mile I had
recovered enough that I was trotting towards the finish line and relatively sure
I’d make it to the end. A finish in my first Boston was nothing to be sneezed
at, I consoled myself. I was aware enough of my surroundings to realize that as
I ran the last mile of the Boston Marathon, I was within one mile my birthplace. Even though I lived in Seattle when I ran Boston in
‘79, I had grown up in New England and knew the excitement a banner headline
‘Japanese Runners Arrive,’ I recall the Boston Globe announcing
one day in the mid -‘60s. What could be bigger news than that? I couldn’t wait for the race itself, even though I then
lived five hours away in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
This was magic to a little kid, and I knew that
someday I would run this race.
ABC in New Hampshire and CBS in Massachusetts were
the single television stations we received. Decisions were easy: watch or not -
there were no other choices.
It was the Hartford station, with its New York City orientation,
that was beamed up into the hilltowns of Western Mass, and so it was that our
sports references were the Giants and Yankees rather than the Patriots and Red
Or would have been, had it not been for an almost
forgotten communications device: radio.
Radio reached into our homes with a power that is
hard to imagine now. To this day when I think of the Beatles’ first wave, I
picture Mt. Washington from my bedroom window and sense the Beatles reaching me
with a voice and a message I thought only a twelve-year-old could understand. In
Massachusetts, often I would fill the downstairs tub with cool water in the
summertime and just sit there and listen for two hours while my beloved Red Sox
The Red Sox are New England’s team, and the Boston
Marathon, New England’s race.
Even as a child, I always found something sacred about
this race, something unscarred, something pure. Amateurs, and few of them, ran
this race for the unfettered joy of it.
It was unimaginable that anyone would try to do this
I wonder now, what it would have been like sitting
in that tub, listening to the runners finish, and hearing the bombs go off.
What would I have made of this?
The first several times I saw video of the
Boston bombings there was no sound, just video, so I did not understand the
full import of what I was seeing. I knew something was wrong, but not how
When I heard the audio, I was stunned.
The question of the year became: what was your time
A new colleague finished in just over three hours
and emailed me back to say that by the time the bombs went off, he had
retrieved his family from the finish area and they were safely away. I think
that he, too, was unaware at first of the devastation wrought by these acts of
cowards, though I know they weigh heavily on him still.
Aging is a process of loss as well as gain, and as I
tend towards the optimistic, I try to keep my focus on gain in the face of
sometimes compelling evidence to the contrary. Often, things that are near as
well as dear suffer unavoidable collateral damage in spite of our best attempts
to spare them. But it’s rare that someone decides - willfully and maliciously -
to line up the very best in his sights and pull the trigger.
As a child of Boston who was shaped by small New
England towns, I believe strongly in the power and the resilience of my fellow
New Englanders. It is Boston - and the entire region - that has been and remains strong.
But on Monday, unavoidably, the international
distance running community - and our entire nation - will hold its collective
breath while the Boston Marathon is run. In spite of massive security efforts,
we all will wonder if someone else will attempt the inconceivable.
Strong Bostonians and New Englanders have the
answer: they show up. They accept fear as a new reality of this race, and cheer
from Hopkinton to Boston anyway.
Strong qualifiers from around the nation accept fear
as a new part of this race, and run anyway.
Strong champion runners from around the world accept
fear as a new element of this race, and race anyway.
The rest of us hold our breath - and breathe anyway.
Dagger in the heart of Heartbreak Hill?
Clearly not a fatal one, not when incensed millions
ask “how dare they?” and answer in defiant protest by lining the course for 26.2
These millions will by the spirit of their very
presence answer the terrorists - resoundingly - the same way David Ortiz did in