Perhaps it was appropriate that on the third Monday of April, the SDSU sports MBA Student of the Week award was passed off from the resident Bostonian (Johnson Tran) to the distance runner in the class (yours truly). On the same day 2500 miles away, the 117th Boston Marathon was run. Kenya’s Rita Jeptu reeled in Portugal’s Anna Dulce Felix to win the women’s race while Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa outkicked his fellow countryman Gebre Gebremariam (3rd) and Kenya’s Micah Kogo (2nd) in the men’s race. It is hard to celebrate any of these accomplishments given the events that followed and have dominated the news cycle since.
Sports are visible: they are popular and they are loved like no other form of entertainment available. If this weren’t true then we wouldn’t be studying sports business here at San Diego State. There are no shortage of businesses hoping to take advantage of this popularity and billions of dollars change hands in the sports industry every year. Effectively aligning your message with a popular sports property is a great way to gain awareness and affection for your brand. This concept is well-known.
Unfortunately there are people who try to hijack this visibility to gain awareness to a misaligned ideology. Terror attacks at the 1972 and 1996 Olympics were performed by very different people in the name of very different ideologies but both attacks resonated around the world. These attacks were loud and while it can’t be argued that the people behind these attacks gained levels of notoriety that they couldn’t have achieved otherwise, the messages that they were hoping to spread were either ignored or backfired. While I vividly remember my parents’ attempts at explaining to me why people were attacked at the Atlanta Olympics that we were watching on TV, very few people likely remember why Eric Robert Rudolph was so incensed by the American government and the Olympic movement that he left bombs in Centennial Park.
Likewise, while Black September’s political motivations behind the kidnapping and eventual deaths of members of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich are inescapable, their efforts to rally people to their cause were far outweighed by the level of support that Israel received in the aftermath of the event. Neither attacks were successful in ending the Games in which they took place and the certainly did nothing to slow the growth of the Olympic movement into the global phenomenon that it is today.
The parallels between the Boston Marathon and the Olympics are too obvious to miss. Both have long and storied histories and are scenes of unbelievable triumph and the agony of defeat. Both are events that are international in the attention paid to them and in the participation filling the medal stands and the rest of the parade. Now, they also share in the tragedy of terror attacks attempting to capitalize on their popularity and derail their operation.
While those responsible in Boston have not yet been found and their motivations are not known, one thing is known: that there will be a 118th Boston Marathon and it will be as strong as ever. Two wonderful articles that graced the New York Times’ opinion pages explain this best: Dennis Lehane’s account on Messing with the Wrong City and Thomas Friedman beckoning us to Bring On the Next Marathon.
Whether it is the Olympics or the Boston Marathon, the level of sacrifice and determination that it takes to simply participate bring out the best of the human condition. These are not simply people who are good at running great distances, swimming across a pool or bounding across the floor but they are people who go on to do wonderful things later in life because that determination isn’t restricted to sports. The sacrifice is not limited to those whose sweat drips on the day of the event but it is spread through the network of support, the friends and family, that are necessary for the level of commitment required to participate in these events. Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, and Krystle Campbell have now paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of the Boston Marathon.
These attacks may have knocked the wind out of us but they have not dampened the human spirit that is inspired in us by sport. The story of two doctors running toward the blasts despite the danger and without regard to the 26 miles infused in their tired legs to save the lives of their fellow runners illustrate exactly my point. The running community should be strengthened by this event. Boston and the rest of America should come together to celebrate sport on all levels and remember how special it truly is.
Whether it was my first local 5k or the World Half Marathon Championships, I have never felt unsafe at a running event and this will not change now. While safety should always be a concern and efforts to improve safety should always be explored at all sporting events, road races are undoubtedly safe thanks in no small part to meticulous planning on the part of the race organizers and the indispensable support of police and other first-responders on site.
Less than a year ago the New York City Marathon fell victim to superstorm Sandy while I was scheduled to debut at the distance. I left New York with little doubt in my mind that I would be back the following year to finish what I had started so many years ago. Despite never having run a marathon it is a distance that I have poured no shortage of thought and miles on the pavement into. Now I have another marathon to put on the calendar: the 118th Boston Marathon.
If you are a runner then do not let the cowardly acts of a few take away from what you love and please continue to participate in road races big and small. If you are interested in running then let the events that occurred in Boston inspire you to get out the door and put one foot in front of the other. If you are not a runner then I implore you to support the running community by donating to or volunteering at a local race or by simply cheering on the runners around you. There would be no better way to remember those that were lost and forget about those that attacked us than to keep the running community strong.