“Never has a sporting event been less important,” exclaimed Christine Brennan, a USA Today sports writer, writing to persuade Mayor Michael Bloomberg and marathon director Mary Wittenberg to cancel the 2012 New York City Marathon. The yearly marathon, which was canceled shortly after Brennan’s article was written, was unfortunately scheduled less than a week after Superstorm Sandy crushed parts of the Northeast.
I will admit that I probably would not have cared about the New York City Marathon unless it was canceled. But I could not stop thinking about one of the country’s major sporting events, held every year since 1970, being flat-out canceled on a moment’s notice, not even postponed. This same marathon was even held less than two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
I begrudgingly agree that Bloomberg and Wittenberg made the right call regarding the marathon. As much as I wanted to see this glorious tradition of a sporting event occur in Manhattan, it would be wrong to divert much-needed personnel, especially firefighters and police, to monitoring the marathon. The hundreds of generators needed to run the administrative tents of the marathon officials were instead used to power homes and schools in the hardest hit areas of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs.
At the same time, however, the $340 million dollars in revenue that the city receives annually from the marathon will be sorely missed. Many small businesses around Manhattan, such as hotels, restaurants, and even bars, rely on the marathon to bring in major business during the weekend, and they took a direct financial hit as a result of the cancelation. There is also the question of how to repay the thousands of marathoners stranded in New York City over the weekend, having already paid their expensive registration fees.
But just because a sporting event has been canceled does not make it “less important” or irrelevant. In fact, cancelation of this grand event can only make it more notorious and significant in the overall history of the New York City Marathon.
A great parallel to the cancelation of the marathon is the various cancelations and boycotts of the Olympic Games. Do you remember superstar athlete Jim Thorpe earning gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon during the 1912 Summer Olympic Games, only to have them stripped away when he revealed himself as a former professional minor league baseball player? While you may not remember this essential tidbit of American Olympic history, I am sure you can recall that the 1916 Olympics were set to occur in Berlin but were canceled because of World War I.
The 1980s was an exceptional period of American Olympic history. Track star Carl Lewis won four gold metals, Mary Lou Retton swept five gymnastics medals and the USA beat the Soviet Union in a “miracle” of a hockey game. Yet that notorious 1980 Olympics blank spot, when President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Moscow Games because of Cold War tensions, will continue to stare us in the face for the remainder of Olympic history.
This phenomenon also occurs in pro and college sports. Do you associate Southern Methodist University football with its greatest players, Eric Dickerson and Craig James, and the “Pony Express” offense? Or do you recall the infamous “Death Penalty” handed to SMU when it was forced to completely stop football for two years?
Coming from a state that completely shuts down if there is a half-inch of snow, I know almost nothing about hockey or the NHL. But even I know about the 2004-2005 NHL lockout season, the first time an American professional sports league completely shut down due to labor strikes. If you were to place all of the Stanley Cups in a museum, I would focus on the 2004-2005 Stanley Cup that reads “Season Not Played.”
Americans and marathon runners and spectators should allow themselves to grieve at the loss of a significant sporting event. Try telling a 2012 New York City Marathon participant the race they trained years for and spent thousands of dollars on “has never been less important.” Yes, the right call was made to shut down the marathon regarding the aftermath of Sandy, but that does not mean that the canceled New York City Marathon is any less important in the minds of sports fans.
I will probably never learn the names of even the most famous past winners of this historic sporting event, yet I will always be able to remember how the entire city of New York lost the marathon in 2012.