Jeroen Deen, with Mary Keitany,
photo courtesy of Jeroen Deen
Justin Lagat, our correspondent in Kenya, spoke to physiotherapist Jeroen Deen, after his return from the cancelled ING New York City Marathon. Here were some of his thoughts and observations:
BEHIND THE SCENES WITH ELITE ATHLETES AT NEW YORK :
Whenever there is a big marathon anywhere in the world: a major city, a world championship or an Olympic one, one person rarely misses on these events. His name is Jeroen Deen, a Dutch physiotherapist who has been dealing with long distance runners, mostly from Kenya and Ethiopia, for over ten years now. He often accompanies them to their races, because the race organizers always invite him to be there on such big events. If you want to know about the preparedness of the elite field a few hours to the start of any big major marathon, you just have to contact him. He was in New York a few days before the scheduled day for the marathon, where he had sent me a message the last Thursday before the date set that he and a contingent of elite athletes from Kenya were on high spirits after the mayor had announced that the marathon was going to go on despite the criticisms it was beginning to face. Only Sharon Cherop and Martin Lel were still due to join them because of some delays, but were going to make it.
Shortly after I got his message, which was full of optimism, the marathon was cancelled to the shock of many. I could just imagine how the athletes who had prepared for a full year for the race must have felt and reacted, and for that reason, I decided to approach him at Iten after he came back into the country to give me a vivid picture of how it all went there.
He told me how Gabriele, who works with the Gianni Demadonna's management, would not have been surprised about the cancellation because he had foreseen that earlier on when they had arrived at New York and found out that only a few roads were operational from the airport. Then they had learnt that some hotels in the city had no electricity. But the last minute announcement that the marathon had been cancelled was too much for some athletes to grasp. Sabrina Mockenhaupt, of Germany, collapsed when she heard the news. Others were in tears, while still others were in a state of disbelief and wanted the information to be relayed again and again for it to sink in to their minds. Others were very frustrated and wanted to book the soonest possible flight out of New York, except that, like everywhere else, operations at the airport were moving slowly and it was taking time before one could find a flight.
According to Jeroen, most of the athletes could not fully understand why it was impossible for the marathon to continue. And it wasn't only the athletes, even some locals they met there had been eager to witness the marathon. There was a big sporting event that went ahead in New Jersey the same weekend despite the fact that the place was even more affected than New York and they wondered why the same could not happen with the marathon. To him, he believes the cancellation came out partly due to negative publicity by the media, and also politics to some extent.
The Kenyan athletes were lucky to have had an invitation to their embassy there in New York where they partied and cooled down their frustrations.
If the announcement would have been made earlier, a lot of people would have avoided incurring the expenses of travelling all the way there.
The following day after the cancellation, most athletes wanted to participate in the relief efforts, like taking and distributing items and foodstuffs to those in need, but according to Jeroen, no one took up the initiative to provide a pickup truck for them, nor any other form of organized work. He believes that this would have gone a long way in reversing the criticisms some had labeled against the participants of the marathon as insensitive to the suffering of the locals.
Athletes' managers also did convene a meeting where they discussed the plight of the elite athletes who were entitled to appearance money for participating in the marathon. Some of these athletes had to forego other races they would have participated in because of the offer they had received from the New York organizers. They all reached a consensus and wrote a proposal for the organizers to compensate these athletes. But, to those who had a chance to win the overall title of the World Major Marathon Champion, there was no way they could be compensated enough. Edna Kiplagat, Sharon Cherop, and Wilson Kipsang, saw their chances of winning the highly coveted title disappear before them.
And if there is one athlete who impressed Jeroen in the way he reacted to the cancellation, it was Wilson Kipsang. He didn't show any indication of being disappointed despite being one of the athletes who would have gained the most from the marathon. He appeared happy and went ahead on his activities, exploring the city and doing some shopping before flying back.
At the end of it all, almost all the elite athletes understood that the decision had to be taken. Perhaps the only big mistake that should have been avoided was the announcement that was made at the last days when everyone was already ready for the race.
So far, some of them have been able to bounce back with Tiki Gelana taking the 2nd position at the 7 Hill Race while Sharon Cherop and Hilda Kibet both run their best times at the Turin Marathon finishing in the top two positions, barely a week after the disappointment.