Sunday, June 29, 2014

Echoes of Silence


photo credit: www.usatoday.community

 
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 Fame.”
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 athletics.”
“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 word.
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 immediately.
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 to take.
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throws and Cons

US track and field enthusiasts – and shot put devotees in particular – have been treated to two engaging fan experiences this past month.

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 Championships?
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.
 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Track in the Trees: Return to Echo Summit

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.

Here is an excellent article by Bob Burns; it features a classic, historic photo of the track in the trees:
http://www.pausatf.org/data/2013/tfechosummit.html

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






Saturday, May 31, 2014

World Record Today?

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 Classic.

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 event.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Joanie! Julie! Julie!



30th Anniversary Commemoration of the 1984 Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials 


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:

“Where’s Olympia?”

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 the Trials.

 “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 “Olympia.”

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 by volunteers.

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.

She was.

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 as 20k.

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 so much.”

 

 

Credits
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 Lindstrom.

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 Seattle Times.

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.

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sixty's Sixtieth: Parry O'Brien

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 achievement.

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 “completely revolutionary.”

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 an event.

After dinner I went downstairs and stood in long lines to have my moment with at least a few of these legends.

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.

Humble, certainly.

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 not say.

With great emphasis, he said, “Thank you.”

He looked down quickly and then up again.
 
“Thank you.”

He was trying to tell me something important.
 
“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.

 



 


 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

 


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Dagger in the Heart of Heartbreak Hill?

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 could create.

‘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 Sox.

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 lost again.
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 race harm.

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 wrong.

When I heard the audio, I was stunned.
The question of the year became: what was your time at Boston?

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 miles.

These millions will by the spirit of their very presence answer the terrorists - resoundingly - the same way David Ortiz did in Fenway Park.