Boston holds first marathon since bombings
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Almost 36,000 runners set off under tight security at the Boston Marathon on Monday in a show of defiance a year after a bomb attack killed three people and wounded more than 260 near the finish line.
A total of 35,755 athletes were registered to run – the second-largest participation level in its history – with many turning out to show support for the event and the city that was traumatised by the attack on its signature sporting event.
Race organisers expanded the list of paticipants from a cap of 27,000 to make room for more than 5,000 runners who were still on the course last year at the time of the explosions, and for the friends and relatives of the victims who wanted to run in their honour.
While Governor Deval Patrick said there had been no specific threats against the race, spectators at the 118th edition of the world’s oldest annual marathon had to go through tight checkpoints before being allowed near the starting and finish lines.
Police were deployed in force along the route and posted on rooftops, with helicopters circling above and bomb-sniffing dogs checking trash cans. Police set up checkpoints along the marathon route to examine backpacks, particularly outside subway station exits, while runners were asked to use clear plastic bags for their belongings.
To the delight of many in the crowd, an American won the men’s division for the first time in more than three decades, dominating a field that included many athletes who were prevented from finishing last year. Eritrean-born American Meb Keflizighi, a former New York City Marathon champion and Olympic medalist, won the men’s title in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 37 seconds.
Cheers rose up as word of the first American man to win in Boston since 1983 spread through the pack of runners.
Keflizighi had the names of last year’s victims written in black marker on the corners of his race bib.
Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo won the women’s race in a course-record 2 hours, 18 minutes, 57 seconds, defending a championship from last year. She had been hoping this year for a title she could enjoy.
“It was very difficult to be happy. People were injured and children died,” she had said of last year’s marathon. “If I’m going to win again, I hope I can be happier and to show people, like I was supposed to last year.”
President Barack Obama congratulated Keflizighi and Shalane Flanagan, the top American finisher among the women, “for making American proud!” in a Twitter message.
Last year, the two pressure-cooker bombs that went off near the finish line killed three people and wounded more than 260 in a hellish spectacle of torn limbs, smoke and broken glass.
'Taking back the finish line'
Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray said it had been a long and difficult year.
“We’re taking back our race,” he said. “We’re taking back the finish line.”
At 2:49pm local time, the moment the bombs went off, spectators observed a moment of silence at the finish line. It was followed by some of the loudest cheers of the day as people whooped, clapped and rang cowbells.
Buses bearing the message “Boston Strong” dropped off runners at the starting line in the town of Hopkinton.
A banner on one building read: “You are Boston Strong. You Earned This.”
Among the signs lining the end of the route was one paying tribute to 8-year-old Martin Richard, the youngest of those killed in the bombing.
“No more hurting people. Peace,” read the sign. A photograph of Martin holding a poster he made for school with those words was published after his death.
“I showed up, I’m back, and I am going to finish what I didn’t finish last year,” said Mary Cunningham, 50, of St. Petersburg, Florida, who was stopped a mile short of the finish line by the explosions last year.
Sabrina Dello Russo, 38, of South Boston, was running her first marathon for a good friend, Roseann Sdoia, who lost her right leg in the bombing.
“She is my inspiration, from day one last year when I saw her in the ICU (intensive care unit). Every run I do, she is in the back of my head, and she will be keeping me going today,” Dello Russo said.
Among the spectators cheering the runners on near the finish line was Jeff Bauman, who lost his legs in the bombing. It was the first time he had returned to the area since the attack.
“It feels great” to be back, he said. “I feel very safe.”
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, is awaiting trial in connection with the April 15, 2013, attack and could get the death penalty. Prosecutors said he and his older brother – ethnic Chechens who came to the US from Russia more than a decade ago – carried out the attack in retaliation for US-led wars in Muslim lands.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died in a shootout with police days after the bombings.
(FRANCE 24 with AP)
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