Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By ROB HARRIS, The Associated Press
LONDON — A defiant, festive mood prevailed Sunday at the London Marathon despite concerns raised by the recent bombings at the Boston Marathon.
Tsegaye Kebede of Kenya puts his arms out as he celebrates after winning the men's London Marathon on Sunday,
On a glorious spring day in the British capital, thousands of runners offered tributes to those killed and injured in Boston last Monday. The race began after a moment of silence for the victims, and many here wore black armbands as a sign of solidarity. Two runners finished carrying a banner that read "For Boston."
"It means that runners are stronger than bombers," said Valerie Bloomfield, a 40-year-old participant from France.
London's is the first major international marathon since two bombs exploded near the finish line in Boston. The blasts killed three people and wounded 180, and a policeman died during the search for the bombers. One suspect died in a shootout with police, while a second was caught.
Some 35,000 runners took part in the London race, which also drew tens of thousands of spectators. Earlier, authorities said they were boosting the police presence by 40 percent and adding extra surveillance as precautionary measures.
Most of the runners in London said they weren't worried by the Boston bombings, and the impressive turnout of fans lining the routes - many regulars said it was the biggest and most enthusiastic crowd in years - showed the same spirit.
Stuart Calderwood, an editor with a New York running magazine who has run in eight Boston Marathons, said the recent carnage there made him and his friends more determined to run in London.
"We thought, 'What's going on with marathons? Are we vulnerable, in danger?'" said Calderwood, 55, after finishing the London course. "My group that came here, we just decided this is going to make us better. We're going to say marathons are the opposite of bombing and hostility and terror."
David Wilson, 45, said there was no question of canceling the marathon. He noted that Londoners had come back onto the streets the day after the lethal July 7, 2005, transit system bombings and weren't easily cowed.
"You can't not do anything, because otherwise you'd stay on the outs all the time," he said.
But Chris Denton, a 44-year-old engineer stretching his legs by the start line, acknowledged an undercurrent of anxiety. He'd asked that his family not come out to support him because of a possible copycat attack. "I left them at home," he said. "If only for my peace of mind."
The men's race was won by Ethiopian Tsegaye Kebede; the women's champion was Kenyan Priscah Jeptoo.
Among the participants in London was Tomasz Hamerlak of Poland, who finished fourth in the men's wheelchair race and had competed in Boston last week.
"It is terrible what happened in Boston, but we can't look back, we must look forward," an out-of-breath Hamerlak told The Associated Press moments after crossing the finish line. "The show must go on."
A seemingly relaxed Prince Harry presented awards to the wheelchair racers and mingled with spectators.
"It's fantastic, typically British," he told the BBC. "People are saying they haven't seen crowds like this for eight years around the route. It's remarkable to see."
He said it was "never an option" for him to cancel his appearance following the Boston bombings.
"No one has changed any plans, volunteers, security, nothing has changed," he said. "Typically the British way."
On Blackheath, the spacious green common area where the race begins, runners massaged each other's legs as loud pop music boomed on a sound system. A half-dozen police officers in reflective vests mingled and chatted with the runners. Many in the crowd wore Boston T-shirts.
Moments before the majority of runners set off on the grinding course, announcer Geoff Wightman used the loudspeakers to ask for a moment of silence. He described marathon running as a global sport that unites runners and supporters in every continent in a spirit of friendship.
As those gathered responded to his call, the only noise that could be heard was the buzz of helicopters and the beeping of a truck.
Security was plentiful but not intrusive near the finish line at the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace. Marathon staff, officials and journalists had their bags checked, a process not deemed necessary at the event last year. Officials said this was in response to the Boston attack.
Marathon organizers plan to donate money to a Boston fund set up to help the bombing victims. They said they did not consider canceling the London event, which is a highlight of the sporting calendar.
In a smaller event in Germany, some 15,000 runners were participating Sunday in the Hamburg Marathon. They wore armbands with the slogan "Run for Boston."
Extra security was added and there was no disruption. Hamburg organizers have said that they know of only eight people who pulled out because of the Boston bombings.