The Plan that Saved the 2010 London Marathon, by Larry Eder

the london napkin.jpg
The sheet shown above, provided as a visual aid, (courtesy of Glenn Latimer), shows how the Virgin London staff sprang into action to bring 53 elite runners and pacemakers into London for the Virgin London marathon. Without this plan, and without the creative action of the staff, the world's elite would have been left in Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, France, Russia, Spain. The $150k reportedly spent, chartering two jets, one prop plane and a charter bus, made the "race for an ages, a reality." Read on....


Image via Wikipedia

So, an volcano from Iceland showed the world that once again, control, even in this modern world of ours, is but an illusion!

Let's go back just a week, to Monday, April 20, 2010. That was Patriot's Day in Boston, and a tremendous race, on both the men and women's sides, with Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot running a superb 2:05:52 and bringing Boston back into the the world of fast marathons.
The womens race had come down to the final, gut wrenching steps, as
Tesye Erkesso held on for the win in 2:26:11. Erkesso's margin of victory was four seconds! On Tuesday, April 21, still in Boston, I was asked how I was getting to London, and I said, I had not even thought about that one. My concerns were whether I should even try. So, I made reservations on the last flight out, on Friday, April 23. If I made it, great, if not, then, I would have to watch the race from home.

I was not racing London however, I was covering it for our blog and websites. That was not the luxury that 53 athletes had from around the world. On Tuesday, April 20, the little sheet of paper that you see memorialized above, came into being. After discussions with Dave Bedford and his team, Glenn Latimer and the London travel team came up with a plan to get the 53 athletes that they needed from the U.S., Brazil, Kenya, Ethiopia, Japan, Russia, Hungary, Romania, Germany, Morocco and China.

The plans were intricate. Some athletes were driving from Bucharest and Budapest, meeting in Frankfurt, to either be taken by jet to London (if it opened up), or chartered bus to the coast of France. There were athletes on a charter from Addis Ababa and Nairobi, who would go to either Frankfurt or Spain, and then, depending, again on the weather and such, be sent by bus and boat, to London.

Around 11 p.m. on Wednesday night, April 21, Heathrow opened up and athletes started to arrive. Mara Yamauchi, who had started six days before, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, was probably the most banged up, but athletes had been unsettled by this crazy volcano, and somehow, athletes began arriving in London late Wednesday night and Thursday, with the last athletes arriving on Friday mid-day!

The race, which was also to be in a heat wave, was quite pleasant, even cool. There was rain early on and a bit of wind, but the athletes persevered, with Tsegaye Kebede taking the win, in the second fastest time ever and Liliya Shobukhova becoming the first Russian women to win London.

On Sunday, when Dave Bedford walked into the Bar on the second floor of the Guoman Tower hotel, a ring of applause greeted him. Mr. Bedford knew he had dodged a week of bullets-volcanic ash, meteorologists adding to the fervor with the talk of a heat wave, and most of all, 72 hours before the race, there had been but a handful of elite athletes in London to run the 2010 Virgin London Marathon.

Liliya Shobukhova, winner, 2010 Virgin London Marathon, by

On Monday, when I asked Glenn Latimer and the travel team how they had done it, there was a mention of the planning sheet. I asked for a copy of it, and by Monday, late afternoon, it appeared. The travel team were all smiles now, as their bets had paid off. In planning to fly in, bus in, or ship in, fifty-three athletes, all were in London by Friday night! And the top athletes were some of the ones who had traveled the farthest.

In the book, Once a Runner, by John Parker, the character in the book, a young aspiring miler named Quentin Cassidy, speaks of the Miles of Trials and the Trials of Miles. In 2007, Carey Pinkowski hand his Trials in Chicago, with the heat. This was just after Guy Morse and Dave McGillavrey had come within three hours of canceling the Boston marathon, due to cold conditions! Now, it was Mr. Bedford's turn.

Dave Bedford, the former world record holder at 10,000 meters, and one of the most colorful sports characters in modern British athletics, seems to enjoy the good fight. When I mentioned to him that I had written that, to me, it seemed like London had endured the Trials of Job, Bedford smiled, the mustache twitched a bit, and the devlish gleem in his eye could be seen. He was pleased to look at the battle well-fought, and acknowledged that it was a superb team effort.

The devil, as they say is in the details. This year, the Virigin London marathon staff faced the many things, including a volcano, airports in 23 European countries brought to a standstill and fifty-three elite athletes stranded, from North America, to South America, Africa, Asia and northern Europe, and they used a magic napkin, with a plan, and saved elite races on both the men's and women's sides. That for me, makes the races on Sunday even more spectacular!

Tsegaye Kebede, men's winner, 2010 Virgin London Marathon,
photo by

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