AT A GLANCE / MARCH 2020

This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Boston Marathon and is being used here for representation purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.

Boston Marathon postponed

The 2020 Boston Marathon has been postponed to September owing to concerns related to COVID-19.

A statement dated March 13, available on the event website, said, “ The Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) has been meeting regularly with city and state officials to discuss all updates related to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency on March 10, 2020. In consideration of this and guided by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh along with state and municipal government leaders at all levels to undertake all possible measures to safeguard the health of the public, the B.A.A. understands the city’s decision that the Boston Marathon cannot be held on April 20, 2020. We offer our full support to take all reasonable efforts to postpone the 124th Boston Marathon to Monday, September 14, 2020.’’

According to it, the B.A.A. has been cooperating with municipal leaders across the eight cities and towns through which the marathon course runs to coordinate the September 14 date for the 124th Boston Marathon. The B.A.A. 5K, which draws a field of 10,000 participants, will also be rescheduled to a later date. Registered participants and volunteers will receive additional information in the coming days. “ As this is a rapidly evolving situation, further details will be forthcoming,’’ the statement said.

Dana Zatopkova passes away

Dana Zatopkova, 1952 Olympic javelin champion and former world record holder, passed away on March 13, 2020.

She was 97 years old.

Dana was the wife of Emil Zatopek, among the greatest distance runners of all time. Zatopek died in November 2000.

Dana was the first Czech woman to throw beyond 40 meters, a report on her demise available on the website of World Athletics, said.  She was selected for the 1948 London Olympics. It was at this competition that Zatopek went over to congratulate her; in the ensuing conversation the duo discovered that they shared the same birthday.

At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Zatopek secured gold in the 5000 meters, 10,000 meters and the marathon while Dana struck gold in the javelin. At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, she secured silver. According to Wikipedia, Dana was European champion in 1954 and 1958; she also set a world record in 1958, aged 35.

This image is from the 2019 London Marathon. It was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

London Marathon postponed

The 2020 London Marathon scheduled to take place on April 26 has been postponed given the current predicament of several countries tackling COVID-19.

The event will be held in October.

A statement dated March 13, available on the website of the event, said, “ The 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon – The 40th Race – is now scheduled to take place on Sunday 4 October 2020.’’ It quoted Event Director, Hugh Brasher, as saying, “ the world is in an unprecedented situation grappling with a global pandemic of COVID-19 and public health is everyone’s priority. We know how disappointing this news will be for so many – the runners who have trained for many months, the thousands of charities for which they are raising funds and the millions who watch the race every year. We are extremely grateful for all the support we have received from City Hall, the London boroughs of Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, the City of Westminster and the City of London, Transport for London, the emergency services, The Royal Parks, BBC TV and many others as we worked to find an alternative date. The 40th Race is scheduled to go ahead on Sunday 4 October 2020.”

According to the statement, every runner with a place in the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon will be able to use their place in the rescheduled event on Sunday 4 October without any further payment. All runners who have a place for the 2020 event and who choose not to take part (or are unable to do so) in the rescheduled event on Sunday 4 October will receive a refund of their 2020 entry fee or, if they wish, they may donate their 2020 entry fee to The London Marathon Charitable Trust. Runners who do not take up one of the above options (with the exception of those who acquired their entry through a charity or sponsor) will be able to defer (rollover) their entry to the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon, scheduled for Sunday 25 April 2021, on payment of the entry fee for 2021, following the standard deferment process. Runners who have already withdrawn from the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon and rolled over their entry to 2021 will be offered the option to take part on Sunday 4 October or keep their entry rolled over to 2021.

The Abbott World Marathon Majors Wanda Age Group World Championships will take place within the rescheduled event and qualified runners will be automatically entered into the rescheduled event. If qualified runners cannot take part on Sunday 4 October, they will be offered a full refund. It is not possible to defer these places to 2021, the statement added.

Two Oceans Marathon cancelled

The 2020 Two Oceans Marathon slated for April 8-11 in Cape Town, South Africa, has been cancelled over concerns related to COVID-19.

Two Oceans Marathon is Africa’s biggest event in running.

A statement dated March 15, available on the event’s website said, “ Following an emergency meeting of the Two Oceans Marathon NPC board on Saturday, it was unanimously decided that all Two Oceans Marathon events scheduled for 8-11 April 2020 would be cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the global spread of the coronavirus.’’ It quoted Race Director Debra Barnes as saying, “ We have been monitoring the status of the novel coronavirus pandemic as events have unfolded internationally and locally, and we’ve consulted with public health experts and authorities. The health and safety of the competitors, staff, sponsors and the global community are paramount and an event of this scale poses far too great a risk to continue. Guided by this priority and global best practice, the TOM NPC has made the difficult decision to cancel the world’s most beautiful ultramarathon for 2020.”

Further information will be made available in due course, the statement said.

No Hyderabad Marathon as earlier scheduled

The 2020 Airtel Hyderabad Marathon slated for August 1-2 this year will not be held as earlier scheduled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a notice on the event’s website informed. According to it, a new date will be announced “ at a later time.” All those who registered for the event will receive full refund, it said.

2020 TCS 10K to be rescheduled

The 2020 TCS World 10K will be rescheduled due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

“ Procam International has decided to suspend registrations for the Tata Consultancy Services World 10K 2020 (to be held on 17th May) and reschedule the Race Day,’’ a statement available on the event’s website said. The new date will be confirmed “ over the next few days,’’ it added.

According to it, runners who have already registered will have their registrations automatically transferred to the new race date, without any payment.

Camille Herron (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the US National 24-Hour Running Team and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

2019 IAU Athlete of the Year announced: Camille Herron, Aleksandr Sorokin win

Ultrarunners Camille Herron of the U.S. and Aleksandr Sorokin of Lithuania have been chosen IAU Athlete of the Year for 2019 in their respective gender categories.

Camille received over 37 percent of votes and Aleksandr 31 percent, information available on the website of International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU), said.

Camille had won the title in 2015 and 2018. In 2017, she was runner-up. For Aleksandr, this is the first time he is winning it; he was nominated in 2018.

Camille was winner of the women’s race at the IAU 24-hour World Championship held at Albi, France. She covered a distance of 270.116 km, a new world best in that category.

Aleksandr was overall winner of the IAU 24-hour World Championship, covering a distance of 278.972 km, a Lithuanian national best.

In the title selection process, Alyson Dixon of Great Britain placed second among women with 15 percent votes. Alyson was winner of the IAU 50 km World Championship. Claudia Robles of Argentina ended third with seven percent votes. Claudia had finished second in the IAU 100 km Americas Championship.

Among men, Iraitz Arrospide of Spain placed second with 19 percent votes. He was winner of the IAU 50 km World Championship. Tamas Bodis of Hungary placed third with 14 per cent votes. He had finished second at the IAU 24-hour World Championships. He was also the winner of the 2019 edition of Spartathlon.

Earlier, Mumbai’s Deepak Bandbe had been among those who automatically qualified as a candidate for IAU’s Athlete of the Year 2019 award. The nomination was based on his podium finish at the IAU 100 km Asia & Oceania Championship held at Aqaba, Jordan, in November 2019. The eventual winners of the IAU award were selected from this list.

AFI issues advisory to athletes, coaches on coronavirus outbreak

Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has issued an advisory to athletes, coaches and support staff following the increase in the number of cases of infections of coronavirus (Covid-19) in the country.

As per the advisory, athletes are not allowed to go out of the camps or attend any public or private functions. They and not allowed to train with anyone from outside the camps. Coaches have been asked to ensure that non-campers are not training with campers and separate time slot be allotted to them. Symptoms of flu or any other ailments should be reported immediately.

The AFI meeting to discuss this issue was held on March 5, 2020. The meeting was chaired by AFI President Adille Sumariwalla and attended by Dr Lalit K Bhanot, Chairman AFI Planning Committee, Pradeep Srivastava, AFI treasurer and Sandeep Mehta, Secretary Delhi Athletics Association.

Additionally, the athletes and coaches have been urged to follow World Health Organization (WHO) advisory including avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections, washing of hands frequently, avoiding unprotected contact with farm and wild animals and follow cough etiquette. AFI said that if any athlete, coach or supporting staff is joining the camp after leaving, a mandatory medical check-up has to be carried out by the medical team present at the camp before they are allowed to join the camp.

Confirmed cases cross 100,000 globally: On March 7, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, has surpassed 100,000. “ As we mark this sombre moment, the World Health Organization (WHO) reminds all countries and communities that the spread of this virus can be significantly slowed or even reversed through the implementation of robust containment and control activities. China and other countries are demonstrating that spread of the virus can be slowed and impact reduced through the use of universally applicable actions, such as working across society to identify people who are sick, bringing them to care, following up on contacts, preparing hospitals and clinics to manage a surge in patients, and training health workers. WHO calls on all countries to continue efforts that have been effective in limiting the number of cases and slowing the spread of the virus. Every effort to contain the virus and slow the spread saves lives. These efforts give health systems and all of society much needed time to prepare, and researchers more time to identify effective treatments and develop vaccines. Allowing uncontrolled spread should not be a choice of any government, as it will harm not only the citizens of that country but affect other countries as well,’’ WHO said in a statement available on its website.

March 11 / WHO characterizes COVID-19 as a pandemic: At a media briefing of March 11, 2020, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described COVID-19 as a pandemic. At that juncture, the number of cases had risen to over 118,000 in 114 countries with 4291 fatalities reported. “ Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death. Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do. We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time,’’ Dr Ghebreyesus was quoted as saying in the text of his remarks available on the website of WHO.

“ Just looking at the number of cases and the number of countries affected does not tell the full story. Of the 118,000 cases reported globally in 114 countries, more than 90 percent of cases are in just four countries and two of those – China and the Republic of Korea – have significantly declining epidemics. 81 countries have not reported any cases, and 57 countries have reported 10 cases or less. We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic,’’ he said.

Barcelona Marathon postponed

The 2020 Barcelona Marathon has been postponed to later in the year.

A statement dated March 7, available on the website of Zurich Marato’ Barcelona said, the event has been postponed to October 25. “ This was due to security reasons with regard to COVID 19 and following the WHO and health authorities’ recommendations on this matter for major international events,” the statement said.

2020 World Athletics Half Marathon Championships postponed

The 2020 World Athletics Half Marathon Championships scheduled for March 29 in Gdynia, Poland, has been postponed.

The event was to see participation by over 25,000 runners.

A statement dated March 6, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics said, “ It is with regret that we have agreed with the Mayor of Gdynia and the organisers of the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships Gdynia 2020 (29 March) to postpone this event until October this year, due to the ongoing uncertainty created by the spread of new Coronavirus internationally.

“ The current international situation would have seriously compromised the event at this time as many countries are now restricting international travel, invoking quarantines and advising citizens and event organisers to avoid mass gatherings. First and foremost we had to consider the health and well-being of our athletes, officials and spectators in making this decision. The advice from our medical team, who are in contact with the World Health Organisation, is that the spread of the Coronavirus is at a concerning level in many countries and all major gatherings should be reviewed. This week we have worked with the Local Organising Committee to identify an appropriate alternative date for both the host city and for the elite competitors and we have agreed on 17 October this year,’’ the statement said.

It said key information pertaining to the postponement of the event, may be found on the official website.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Mumbai proposed as venue for IOC session in 2023

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board (EB) has decided that Mumbai, India, will be a candidate to host the IOC Session in 2023. The matter will be put to vote among IOC members. A decision will be taken at the 136th IOC session in Tokyo in July.

In a report dated March 4, 2020, available on its website (under the subcategory: IOC News), IOC informed that its executive board had heard a report from the IOC Session Evaluation Commission, which visited Mumbai in October 2019 to study the feasibility of hosting the IOC session in Mumbai. The evaluation commission praised the quality of facilities at the Jio World Centre, which is the potential venue for the IOC session.

The report quoted IOC president, Thomas Bach as saying, “ we have chosen India because it is the second most populous nation in the world, with a very young population and a huge potential for Olympic sport. We want to encourage and support the National Olympic Committee of India and all the National Federations to promote and strengthen Olympic sport in the country.”

According to the report, it is hoped that hosting the IOC session in India will highlight the role of sport in India and celebrate the contribution of India to the Olympic Movement. “ The year 2023 will be significant for India as it coincides with the 75th anniversary of Indian independence. Hosting the IOC Session in Mumbai would put the Olympic Movement at the heart of those celebrations,’’ the statement said.

Japan’s Olympic minister hints at room for Games postponement if required

IOC to follow WHO’s advice; says for now, athletes should continue preparations

Seiko Hashimoto, Japan’s Olympic minister has indicated that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics can be postponed if required from summer to later in the year, news reports said, March 3.

Japan is among countries tackling coronavirus outbreak. Earlier this month, as a consequence of the developing situation, the annual Tokyo Marathon was held in truncated format with participation restricted to elite athletes. For the past couple of months, the question of what may happen to the 2020 Olympic Games has hung like a Damocles Sword over the event.

According to a BBC report on March 3, minister Hashimoto said in response to a question in Japan’s parliament that Tokyo’s agreement with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) required the Games to be held within 2020. The report said: she added, that “ could be interpreted as allowing a postponement.’’

The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled over July 24-August 9.

In a separate press release (dated March 3, 2020) available on its website, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that its executive board heard and discussed a report on measures taken so far to address the coronavirus situation. “ A joint task force had already been created in mid-February, involving the IOC, Tokyo 2020, the host city of Tokyo, the government of Japan and the World Health Organization (WHO). The IOC EB appreciates and supports the measures being taken, which constitute an important part of Tokyo’s plans to host safe and secure Games. The IOC will continue to follow the advice of WHO, as the leading United Nations agency on this topic,’’ the statement said.

It added, “ The IOC EB encourages all athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.’’

London Marathon issues statement

On March 3, the website of London Marathon (it’s upcoming edition is scheduled for April 26, 2020) hosted the following statement: “ We are monitoring closely the developments relating to the spread of COVID-19 and noting the updates and advice given by the UK Government, the World Health Organisation and other UK public bodies.

“ The Government’s current advice is that all mass events should still go ahead. There are many mass events scheduled in the UK before us and we are working closely with the DCMS (the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) and other mass event organisers to coordinate and agree appropriate advice to the public.’’

This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Tokyo Marathon Foundation. No copyright infringement intended.

Defending champion Birhanu Legese wins 2020 Tokyo Marathon

Lonah Chemtai Salpeter of Israel sets new course record in the women’s race

Ethiopia’s Birhanu Legese defended his title at the 2020 edition of Tokyo Marathon, held on March 1, 2020.

He crossed the finish line in two hours, four minutes and 15 seconds. “ At first I thought I could do better than 2:03:30. However, my left hip began to hurt and the pain kept getting worse. So I made it my mission to win. I am happy to finish, the winner,” Birhanu was quoted as saying in a tweet by Tokyo Marathon Foundation.

Bashir Abdi of Belgium placed second with timing of 2:04:49 while Sisay Lemma of Ethiopia finished third in 2:04:51.

The women’s race was won by Lonah Chemtai Salpeter of Israel in a course record of 2:17:45. Berhane Dibaba of Ethiopia came in second with timing of 2:18:35 and Sutume Asefa Kebede, also of Ethiopia, finished third with timing of 2:20:30.

This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Tokyo Marathon Foundation. No copyright infringement intended.

According to a report on the 2020 Tokyo Marathon available on the website of World Athletics (formerly IAAF), Legese missed the course record in the men’s segment by 18 seconds. However, the men’s race saw 17 runners finish inside 2:08. This included Suguru Osako of Japan (2:05:29), who placed fourth breaking the Japanese national record in the process. He maintained his Olympic qualifying place. Of the top ten finishers among men, four were Japanese runners.

Among women, the highest placed Japanese athlete was Haruka Yamaguchi (2:30:31) who finished tenth.

The 2020 Tokyo Marathon was reduced to an elites-only affair after fears over coronavirus outbreak in Japan led to the participation of amateur runners in the event being cancelled. Amateur runners form the bulk of participants at big races. The Japanese federation and race organizers advised people to stay at home and track the marathon on TV / radio. In its report, BBC paraphrased, “ The Tokyo Marathon took place on Sunday against a backdrop of empty streets and with just a couple of hundred runners due to the coronavirus outbreak.” Japan is among nations known to harbor great interest in running. The Tokyo Marathon normally features over 30,000 runners from all over the world.

Kenenisa Bekele and Lily Partridge (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event. No copyright infringement intended.)

Kenenisa Bekele sets new course record

Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele won the Vitality Big Half Marathon held in London on Sunday, March 1, 2020.

He completed the race in an hour and 22 seconds, demolishing Mo Farah’s course record by a minute and 18 seconds in the process. Britain’s Christopher Thompson finished second while Jake Smith placed third.

The women’s race was won by Britain’s Lily Partridge in 1:10:50.

Bekele is expected to participate in the London Marathon of April 26, 2020. The defending champion there is Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)

DOES THE MARATHON IN INDIA DESERVE SEPARATE OLYMPIC TRIALS?

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

On February 29, 2020 as the US held trials to choose its marathon team for the Tokyo Olympics, the situation in India was vastly different. No Indian marathon runner had yet qualified for the Tokyo Olympics via the most obvious and straightforward route – meeting the qualifying time (athletes can also qualify based on their ranking). Given end-May as cut off period for qualifying, three months remained.

What stood out in the scenario, were two factors. First, the qualifying time is stiff. For men, you have to break the longstanding Indian national record – two hours, 12 minutes – to qualify; in fact, go well past it. The best Indian marathon runner since Shivnath Singh is still more than a minute and 30 seconds behind the mark Singh set over four decades ago. In the case of women, the qualifying time for the Olympics is 2:29:30; the Indian national record is: 2:34:43. Second, unlike the Olympic trials of the US, there appeared none for the marathon in India, leaving top athletes to qualify at either the country’s premier marathons or if the dates don’t fit their training schedule or they are seeking a better course, then attempt qualifying at one of the races overseas.

So far, 2020 has proved a dicey year for mass participation road races abroad. Thanks to the ongoing Covid 19 coronavirus outbreak in multiple countries, events were trimmed or cancelled. At the time of writing, the latest casualty was the 2020 Paris Half Marathon, which stood axed. Prior to that, the Hong Kong Marathon of early February was cancelled, the Tokyo Marathon of March 1 was restricted to elite athletes and the Seoul Marathon of March 22 was cancelled. Athletes who had hoped to qualify for the Olympics at the cancelled events must find alternatives. Meanwhile, the trend of disease outbreak so far, has cast a shadow on the Olympics itself.

The two major marathons in India from the standpoint of Indian elite athletes are the Tata Mumbai Marathon (TMM) and the IDBI Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon. The latter through association with the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), is also called the National Marathon. Despite not having a fast course and having crowd management issues and questionable weather, TMM has produced timings by foreign athletes that are faster than the Indian national record for men and women. As regards the National Marathon, the course is flatter and the roads decent, save for a small cobbled section. But the route has several U-turns capable of breaking momentum.

While the existence of Shivnath Singh’s 2:12 removes room for excuses in India, you can sneak in the question: do we have a course that meets required guidelines and is yet suited for a shot at breaking 2:12? In 2020, this question assumes prominence for a couple of reasons. First, if you want to qualify for the Olympics then a male athlete has to complete the marathon in 2:11:30, a real step-up for Indian marathoners. If that timing is deemed important to chase, then a good enough course in a right enough place (where weather conditions are favorable), to set your best athletes up for the opportunity, makes sense. It has to also dovetail suitably into athletes’ training schedules and the qualifying deadline of a given Olympic season. Second, even as some road races overseas are getting cancelled due to the virus outbreak and air travel to less affected regions also appears risky, India has so far (as of early March 2020) remained less impacted by Covid 19. Yet for lack of well imagined domestic Olympic marathon trials, we have this situation of our marathoners counting on overseas events with fast courses to qualify. As mentioned, some of these events have got cancelled. Besides, participating in these races entail expense while accessing them depends on the continued viability of aviation routes amid reports of the virus’s economic impact on airlines. So what stops India from having its own Olympic marathon trials? A race featuring the crème de la crème of India’s marathon talent on a suitable course approved by required authorities? It seems all the more relevant in 2020 given the unique global situation Covid 19 has got the planet in.

To the extent this blog inquired with professional race organizers, such a race in India to qualify for the Olympics is logistically possible. The race infrastructure (course length, timing apparatus etc) has to be properly approved. In terms of support and recognition by sports bodies, the backing of the concerned national federation – in this case AFI – has to be there. We have the meteorological competence to select appropriate dates for Olympic marathon trials. As for closing down a set of suitable roads (a fast course) for the purpose, please remember: city marathons are typically run on Sundays, early in the morning (not hours of peak traffic) and if the field is restricted to elites capable of coming close to the national record, you would have a very limited number of participants with the whole course restored to traffic in two and a half hours or less. Is that too much to ask, once every four years?

Such an event does not have to be the definitive platform for selection to the Indian Olympic marathon team. What it does is – it adds to available options, especially in an extraordinary year like 2020, when avenues to qualify stand restricted due to virus outbreak and India remains less impacted region. Further if established as regular practice, for amateur and elite alike, `Olympic trials’ is as much goal to aspire for as the `best,’ `biggest,’ `richest’ or whatever other attribute you may assign a regular marathon. A case worth mentioning in this context is the American ultrarunner Jim Walmsley. He qualified for the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials based on results secured at the Houston Half Marathon. At the trials of February 29, running his first full marathon, Walmsley finished in 2:15:05, placing 22nd. He didn’t make the team but it shows what Olympic marathon trials can mean. Based on what Indian elite athletes told this blog, the onus of organizing such trials is with the authorities. They have to be interested enough in the marathon to make options available in an Olympic year.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. The qualification details for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics mentioned herein, is as available on Wikipedia. This article is by no means a definitive piece on the subject; it seeks to provoke thought – that’s all.)