Olympians at New York City Marathon reminded of Boston
NEW YORK -- Shalane Flanagan noticed the difference right away.
At Central Park, two men in navy blue jackets with “SECURITY” emblazoned on their backs guarded the doors. There was a metal detector. There were wands.
This was the entrance to the New York City Marathon media center Thursday, three days before the race.
“I can’t recall there being security like there is today,” Flanagan said once inside.
This year’s group of 45,000 runners will take part with the backdrop of tragedy Sunday. Superstorm Sandy canceled the New York City Marathon for the first time in its 42-year history a year ago. Controversially, the New York Road Runners did not decide to scrap the race until two days before.
The Boston Marathon bombings of April 15 put greater emphasis on security in the five-borough event.
Flanagan, 32, has run the New York City Marathon once, finishing second in 2010 in her 26.2-mile debut. The three-time Olympian will not contest Sunday’s race but is here for the Dash to the Finish Line 5K on Saturday.
She arrived for a media session on a soggy Thursday with Boston on her sleep-deprived mind. Flanagan grew up in the fishing and yachting town of Marblehead, Mass., a sub-90-minute run from Boston at her pace.
She stayed up to watch the Red Sox finish off the Cardinals in Game 6 to win the World Series at Fenway Park on Wednesday night.
Flanagan ran into another New Englander early Thursday -- 1984 Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson of Maine. They talked about the finish line of the Boston Marathon, about how Red Sox fans descended on Boylston Street the previous night in celebration, some kissing the pavement.
Samuelson, wearing Boston red socks, was inducted into the New York Road Runners Hall of Fame on Thursday, along with 1972 Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter, four-time New York City Marathon winner Bill Rodgers and Ted Corbitt, the New York Road Runners founder and an African-American distance running pioneer.
Flanagan and Samuelson also met in Boston on April 15, shortly after two homemade bombs went off near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260.
Samuelson, 55, completed the Boston Marathon in 2 hours, 50 minutes, 29 seconds. She achieved her goal of running within 30 minutes of her winning time at the 1983 Boston Marathon, a then-world record 2:22.43.
That day six months ago, for the first time she could remember, she did not hear her name read over speakers as she crossed the finish line of a major race. The announcer had stepped away momentarily.
“It was eerily quiet,” Samuelson said. “Little did I know it was foreboding for what was to come.”
Two hours later, she was at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, getting out of the shower and getting ready for lunch.
“I heard and felt the blast,” she said. “Initially, I thought it was a transformer. My husband knew right away it was a bomb.”
Samuelson said everybody was told to go to the third floor of the hotel. Her husband, Scott, thought it would be a better idea to go down to the lobby.
“The first person I saw was Shalane Flanagan running up to the third floor,” Samuelson said. “I said, ‘Shalane, we’re going to go down and not up.’”
Flanagan remembered, too.
“(Samuelson) was just clearly visibly upset,” said Flanagan, who also ran in Boston and took fourth in 2:27.08. “She’s really good at giving hugs. She gives a really good, mean hug. She just gave everyone a hug. I think both she and I ‑‑ I don’t know if it’s a New Englander thing, but we were both pretty pissed off that someone would ruin such a wonderful day.”
Samuelson ended up staying in the hotel as it was put on lockdown for a couple of hours. The cell phone service was spotty for a while. Samuelson called the scene surreal.
“All sorts of rumors,” she said. “We didn’t really know what was happening.”
Shorter, 66, said he was the last person out of the Fairmont Copley Plaza before they locked it down. He was covering the Boston Marathon for Universal Sports and en route to a TV truck (via shortcut) when the second bomb went off no more than 50 yards away.
“I walked by a medical tent where they were doing triage,” he said. “I was kind of in shock.”
New York Road Runners CEO Mary Wittenberg was also at the Boston Marathon, to watch the race.
“My last image of Boston was Joanie (Samuelson) crossing the finish line, so happy, running an amazing 2:50,” she said.
Wittenberg, 51, then boarded a train back to New York’s Penn Station. An hour into the trip, she received a text message from a friend.
“Our greatest nightmare -- bombs at the finish line of Boston,” she said. “I can still feel it. Total sickness.”
That night, Wittenberg spoke to New York City Police Department commissioner Raymond Kelly. She met with the New York Road Runners staff the following morning.
“First about honoring and supporting and Boston,” she said, “then what measures should we take to what is already a safe and strong security plan to enhance it.”
The Road Runners hired an international firm, MSA Security, to conduct “a top-to-bottom analysis” of the organization’s existing security plan, she told The New York Times. They graded out well, but security will be increased Sunday.
Hundreds of police officers, police helicopters and police boats will line the course and watch from the sky and sea, according to The Associated Press. There will be plain-clothes officers and bomb-sniffing dogs, as usual, but also 100 new mobile security cameras the NYPD bought after Boston.
For the first time, an area near the Central Park finish will be fenced off with extra security to enter, according to the AP. All bags will be searched, according to The New York Times.
Also, a special yellow line in honor of Boston will be painted on the pavement near the finish, accompanying the normal blue line.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever been so looking forward to welcoming back runners from around the world, New Yorkers to the streets and other people watching as part of this nation and worldwide,” Wittenberg said. “The meaning is just on so many levels. We really need to get back to a really good day.”