This is a thoughtful piece by Dave Monti of Race Results Weekly on the race that never was, the 2012 TCS NYC Marathon, which was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy.
ESSAY – TEN YEARS AGO, THE GREATEST MARATHON THAT NEVER WAS
(c) 2022 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission NEW YORK (04-Nov) — I remember it like it was yesterday.
Ten years ago this Friday, I walked out of my race-week office on the 44th floor of the New York Hilton and into the elite athletes’ hospitality suite for the New York City Marathon. It was around 6:00 p.m., and the suite was full of athletes, coaches, managers, guests, and staff. I grabbed a banquet chair from the dining room table and stood on it. I took a deep breath.
“May I have everyone’s attention,” I shouted above the din?
The room suddenly went quiet, and everyone turned toward me. Their faces were anxious. They knew what was coming.
“I’m sorry, but the race has been canceled,” I told them.
I don’t recall what I said next, but there was a stunned silence. It was the first time the New York City Marathon had ever been canceled since its inception in 1970. I’ll never forget the face of Katie DiCamillo. The former Providence College athlete was only 25 and was going to make her marathon debut that Sunday. Her eyes were wet with tears. She, and the other athletes, didn’t know what to do.
And neither did I.
The New York Road Runners (NYRR) pro athletes team, led by Sam Grotewold, Jane Monti, and me, had worked all week mightily to get the 42 elite women and 45 elite men to New York despite the massive wallop delivered to the New York region by Hurricane Sandy, the largest-diameter Atlantic hurricane on record which inflicted $70 billion in damage, killed 233 people (72 in the northeastern United States), flooded portions of New York City, and leveled thousands of homes. Our team had made heroic efforts to reroute athletes to different airports and put them on different flights to get around the storm. We even sent drivers to Boston to pick up diverted athletes. All but a handful made it to New York, and the race was a “go” until Deputy Mayor for Government Affairs and Communications Howard Wolfson officially announced the cancellation with NYRR president and CEO Mary Wittenberg at a press conference near the marathon finish line.
“Over the course of the week, it became clear that the marathon –which is really one of the best days in the life of the city, a moment of unity, happiness, joy, celebration, and everything that is New York– had become divisive and controversial,” Wolfson said. “Those of us who love the city, and those of us who love this race recognize that it wasn’t the marathon if it wasn’t a unified day. It wasn’t the marathon that you love if there were people who were pained by running it. And so, in very close collaboration with Mary and her team, we decided that it would be best this year if we cancel.”
Days earlier, we knew the storm was coming and set up the hospitality area like a war bunker. Jane, who was in charge of athlete hospitality, made sure as much of our athlete food supply as possible was delivered before the storm. That turned out to be critical because food shortages hit Manhattan almost immediately after the storm. NYRR executives set up their offices in the elite athlete suites because their office building, just two blocks away, was inaccessible because a damaged construction crane dangled dangerously above it on an adjacent block.
In the days leading up to the cancellation, we did our best to calm athletes’ fears. Central Park was closed due to tree damage, so we sent athletes to the bicycle path on the west side for training. The Parks Department was working feverishly to cut down dangerous trees to make the park safe for runners, something they did achieve before Sunday.
But holding the race just wasn’t a good idea. New Yorkers were hurting, and there was intense pressure to cancel the race.
“Critics said that it would be in poor taste to hold a foot race through the five boroughs while so many people in the area were still suffering from the storm’s damage and that city services should focus on storm relief, not the marathon” reporter Ken Belson wrote in the New York Times.
Although the race would not be held, our team still had a job to do. Those athletes and their guests, some 200 people, needed our care and support. We needed to keep them fed and get them home safely, even if they couldn’t race. I’m proud of the job that we did. In retrospect, it was one of my biggest accomplishments as an elite athlete coordinator.
But big-time marathoning is a business, and top athletes depend on major races for income. With no race, there would be no prize money and no bonuses. But what about appearance fees? We held an extraordinary meeting with the agents in a conference room at the Hilton. Race director Mary Wittenberg -a woman with seemingly boundless energy who was clearly bone-tired– explained that it would take a long time for everything to shake out financially after the cancellation. The race had cancellation insurance –which would turn out to be critical, paying NYRR millions of dollars- but right then, we weren’t sure what would happen. (NYRR later reached a settlement with the athletes to pay a portion of appearance fees).
For me, the biggest loss was that one of the greatest women’s marathon fields assembled up to that point in the history-a field that Mary, Sam, and I put together over a period of eight months– would never get to race. Reigning Olympic champion Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia was set to do battle with reigning world champion Edna Kiplagat of Kenya. New Zealand marathon record holder Kim Smith was in the field, as was eventual world championships marathon bronze medalist Amy Cragg (she was still Amy Hastings then). After years of trying, we finally got Japan’s most decorated distance runner, Kayoko Fukushi, to compete, and Italian record holder Valeria Straneo was also in the field. The runner-up from the 2011 race, Ethiopia’s Buzunesh Deba, was in the line-up as was 2012 Boston Marathon champion Sharon Cherop. Three-time German Olympian Sabrina Mockenhaupt –whom everyone affectionately called “Mocki”–was set to make her NYC Marathon debut. Reigning USA 5000m Olympian Julie Culley was set to make her marathon debut.
We did our best to place athletes at other marathons, but it was impossible for other races to absorb so many top athletes. A few runners re-booted their training and ran elsewhere, but with limited success. Prokopcuka, Smith, Hastings, Adriana Nelson, and Serena Burla all ran the now-defunct Yokohama Women’s Marathon on November 18. Prokopcuka finished fourth (2:26:55), Smith sixth (2:27:35), and Burla was 11th (2:33:43). Both Hastings and Nelson dropped out. Their training had them peaking for November 2, not November 18.
On Marathon Sunday –a beautiful sunny and cool fall day– tens of thousands went to Central Park to run their own marathons. As Chris Lotsbom reported for Race Results Weekly that day, many just wanted a chance to run, no matter that the official race had been canceled.
“We’ll finish what we started and try to raise money to help people, and once things settle down and there are fewer volunteers, we are going to volunteer,” said Tom Goforth of Harlem, accompanied by his wife, Karen. “We are going to make the best we can of the day. It’s pretty awesome, certainly not running alone. It’s very exciting to see everyone out here.”
Remarkably, two athletes from the 2012 elite field (full listing below) are in New York to compete this year. Edna Kiplagat, 42, is still running near the top of her game. Kiplagat, who is likely to be elevated to first place at the 2021 Boston Marathon because of a doping violation committed by the race-day winner, has to be considered a good candidate to make the podium. Abdi Abdirahman, 45, will be running his last competitive marathon. He made his marathon debut in New York in 2004.
The weather for Sunday will be warmer than usual, but there are no storms to worry about. May it be a wonderful, unifying day for all.
Elite/Invited Athletes – 2012 New York City Marathon (sorted by bib number with personal best times):
102, Buzunesh Deba, ETH, 2:23:19
103, Tiki Gelana, ETH, 2:18:58
104, Ana Dulce Félix, POR, 2:25:40
105, Kim Smith, NZL, 2:25:21
106, Edna Kiplagat, KEN, 2:19:50
107, Sharon Cherop, KEN, 2:22:39
109, Kayoko Fukushi, JPN, 2:24:38
110, Valeria Straneo, ITA, 2:23:44
114, Jelena Prokopcuka, LAT, 2:22:56
115, Hilda Kibet, NED, 2:24:27
116, Sabrina Mockenhaupt, GER, 2:26:21
117, Amy Hastings, USA, 2:27:03
118, Eri Okubo, JPN, 2:26:08
119, Serena Burla, USA, 2:28:27
120, Adriana Nelson, USA, 2:28:52
121, Misiker Mekonnin Demissie, ETH, 2:25:21
122, Adriana Aparecida Da Silva, BRA, 2:29:17
123, Julie Culley, USA, 15:05.38
124, Janet Bawcom, USA, 2:29:45
125, Molly Pritz, USA, 2:31:52
126, Susan Partridge, GBR, 2:34:14
127, Alisha Williams, USA, 2:35:09
128, Wendy Thomas, USA, 2:34:25
129, Emma Quaglia, ITA, 2:31:15
130, Michelle Frey, USA, 2:35:51
131, Aziza Aliyu, ETH, 2:36:55
132, Leah Thorvilson, USA, 2:37:26
134, Jackie Dikos, USA, 2:45:26
136, Kirsten Molloy, AUS, 2:43:41
137, Melissa Gacek, USA, 2:44:10
138, Nichole Porath, USA, 2:44:12
139, Charlotte Karlsson, SWE, 2:48:37
146, Paula Keating, CAN, 2:47:26
160, Muliye Gurmu, ETH, 2:39:55
162, Katie DiCamillo, USA, 32:31.97
163, Sarah Cummings, USA, 1:16:06
164, Lesley Higgins, USA, 1:18:06
165, Heidi Hullinger, USA, 1:18:10
166, Jeanna Composti, USA, 1:20:19
167, Maria Lauretani, USA, 1:21:18
168, Mekides Bekele, ETH, 2:47:50
169, Adrian Chouinard Neal, USA, 2:44:06
2, Moses Mosop, KEN, 2:03:06
3, Wilson Kipsang, KEN, 2:03:42
4, Gebre Gebremariam, ETH, 2:04:53
5, Stanley Biwott, KEN, 2:05:12
6, Martin Lel, KEN, 2:05:15
7, Meb Keflezighi, USA, 2:09:08
8, Marilson Gomes dos Santos, BRA, 2:06:34
9, Abderrahime Bouramdane, MAR, 2:07:33
10, Abdi Abdirahman, USA, 2:08:56
11, Adil Annani, MAR, 2:07:43
12, Brett Gotcher, USA, 2:10:36
14, Scott Overall, GBR, 2:10:55
15, Ryan Vail, USA, 2:12:43
16, Jason Hartmann, USA, 2:11:06
18, Nick Arciniaga, USA, 2:11:30
19, Solonei Rocha Da Silva, BRA, 2:11:32
20, Andrew Carlson, USA, 2:11:24
21, Sergio Reyes, USA, 2:14:02
22, Scott Bauhs, USA, 1:01:30
23, Brent Vaughn, USA, 1:02:04
24, Tim Ritchie, USA, 1:03:57
25, Ian Burrell, USA, 2:14:04
27, Tim Nelson, USA, 2:15:06
28, Zach Hine, USA, 2:16:40
29, Allen Wagner, USA, 2:17:16
30, Simon Bairu, CAN, 2:19:52
32, Jason Flogel, USA, 2:18:21
34, Nick End, USA, 2:19:48
35, Jesse Armijo, USA, 2:17:19
36, Chris Chavez, USA, 2:20:18
38, Christo Landry, USA, 1:15:47 25K
40, Antonio Sousa, POR, 2:13:00
41, Hakim Bagy, FRA, 2:11:06
43, Franklin Tenorio, ECU, 2:10:22
44, German Silva, MEX, 2:09:18
45, Hermann Achmüller, ITA, 2:18:05
54, Vladimir Kotov, BLR, 2:10:58
60, Yohann Diniz, FRA, 3:38:45 50K
63, Tommy Neal, USA, 1:05:00
64, Josh Glaab, USA, 1:05:01
65, Ben Payne, USA, 2:21:01
66, Matt Hensley, USA, 2:23:12
67, Tesfaye Assefa Dube, ETH, 2:15:22
68, Tesfaye Girma, ETH, 2:10:18
69, Mengistu Tabor Nebsi, ETH, 2:15:13