Since the Trials last Saturday where athletes like Shalane Flanagan required medical attention and where almost a quarter of the field was unable to finish, there’s been an increasing amount of criticism of race organizers for not providing a safe, top notch event. Patrick Rizzo wrote a blog post, for example, about some of the things he observed over the weekend. Other OTQ runners have chimed in on LetsRun with similar observations and complaints. Some of these complaints are more centered on what kind of an event the Olympic Trials should be; should it be just a way to pick the Olympic Team or should it celebrate the top runners in the United States? I’m inclined towards the latter but perhaps that’s because the Trials are a huge goal of mine. Whether participants got a good swag bag, however, isn’t as critical as whether 300 runners were put in serious danger for the sake of a TV audience and the ever-present agenda of USATF.
Here’s my take:
All runners, whether they are Trials Qualifiers, likely Olympians or likely last in a local race deserve to have a safe race experience.
It is embarrassing and frankly irresponsible that athletes didn’t have access to cool water for a four mile segment on the course and that when they did, they were given bottles with tops that were almost impossible to open. It is equally irresponsible that the race was held at the heat of the day for a TV audience. Heat stroke is a powerful demon and an athlete who pushes too far in the heat is lucky to only need IV fluids. Similarly, the course in LA featured portions under construction including a tall cone literally in the middle of the road that runners had to circumnavigate. Runners are tired by the end of a marathon; they don’t need to risk breaking an ankle because the course is poorly thought out.
Perhaps what is most appalling is that this race was a big, televised event that was supposed to showcase American distance running and it failed to adapt for weather conditions and protect the athletes when local races with no budgets and few professional runners do this all the time. I can’t recall a local race where there wasn’t enough water and can only think of one race where I felt unsafe because there was no one directing traffic. My hometown Vermont City Marathon, for example, had an extremely hot year a few years back and asked residents of the “Neighborhoods,” a section of the course between 16 and 20 miles to turn on their sprinklers to cool runners. It doesn’t take a huge effort or a ton of lead time to think about what athletes need to be safe and as we consider where to hold the Trials in the future, I hope that we can all stand up for a safe event that celebrates everything the Trials should be.