The Fear of the Long-distance Runner

Terrorists have rediscovered the potential of sports events. The horror in Boston might next hit Berlin, Amsterdam or even Tel Aviv.

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The starting and finishing lines are no longer safe. The ultimate refuge for millions of runners throughout the world became the scene of horror in Boston. That horror might next hit Berlin, Amsterdam, Athens, Milan or even, God forbid, Tel Aviv. The days of grace are over. The terrorists, whomever they may be, targeted the athletes and their families.

But it really was only a matter of time. In the distorted mind of a terrorist, a marathon – the ultimate huge gathering – has immense potential. The security measures surrounding these events are usually slack, policemen are used mostly to direct runners to stay on course, and within seconds a popular celebration, 42.2 kilometers long, can become a bloodbath.

One must admit the writing was on the wall. It turns out that as early as 2003 a Massachusetts State Police report warned that "the [Boston] Marathon could be a 'possible prime terrorist target' because it involves such a large number of runners and spectators [and] draws a live worldwide television audience." And what could be a more attractive target than such an event featuring 27,000 athletes, (including celebrities and politicians) as well as hundreds of thousands of spectators. This time even aerial patrols on the day of the marathon, police dogs that sniffed every garbage can on the course, and even undercover detectives that blended in with the runners could not prevent the horror.

The Boston Marathon organizers admitted that the area of the finish line was open to the public and anyone who wanted to could walk onto the course and take photos. That's the case at most large marathons.

The news of the Boston terror attack was, obviously, the main topic of conversation among Israeli athletes. They pondered whether it would be safe to fly to the Prague marathon on May 12, and if such horrific scenes might now unfold in other large cities. Some even raised the question if the sport is now really worth the trouble.

Marathon runners throughout the world now know that the course is no longer safe. Even the best preparations cannot guarantee that athletes finish the race safely.

Years will pass before the families and spectators can return to enjoying the events peacefully, until the runners can cross the finish line without echoes of the Boston attack playing in their minds. The term "Running Boom," used by experts to describe the rising popularity of long-distance running has now acquired a new, eerie meaning. And all those who were planning to get out and join the runners instead of watching them on TV now have a new excuse not to change their habits. Long distance running is more dangerous than ever.

People leaving the scene after explosions went off at the 117th Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts April 15, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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