London marathon message: 'Runners are stronger than bombers'
On Sunday the mood at the London marathon was festive, as many runners paid tribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Thousands of runners offered tributes to those killed and injured in Boston on a glorious spring day in London. The race began after a moment of silence for the victims in Boston, and many here wore black armbands as a sign of solidarity.
"It means that runners are stronger than bombers," said Valerie Bloomfield, a 40-year-old participant from France.
London's is the first major international marathon since the double-bomb attack near the finish line in Boston, which left three people dead and more than 180 injured, including many who are still hospitalized. In addition, a policeman was killed during the search for the two suspected bombers. One suspect was killed during a shootout with police, while a second has been arrested.
Some 36,000 runners were expected to take part in the London race, which also draws tens of thousands of spectators. Police said they planned to add 40 percent more officers and extra surveillance as a precautionary measure.
Most runners in London said they weren't worried by the Boston bombings, and the impressive turnout of enthusiastic fans lining the routes showed the same spirit.
Stuart Calderwood, an editor with a New York running magazine who has run in eight Boston Marathons, said the carnage there had made him and his friends more determined to run in London.
"We thought, 'What's going on with marathons? Are we vulnerable, in danger?'" said Calderwood, 55, after finishing the London course. "My group that came here, we just decided this is going to make us better. We're going to say marathons are the opposite of bombing and hostility and terror. People come from all over the world, work together to do something they couldn't do by themselves."
He said he put his hand on his heart as he crossed the finish line to honor the Boston victims: "I was thinking in the last mile about the kid that died, his name is Martin Richard and he used to run through every puddle he saw in the street. He loved to run. I ran that for him. ...This is for marathons and positive thinking."
David Wilson, 45, said there was no question of canceling the marathon. He noted that Londoners had come back onto the streets the day after the lethal July 7, 2005, transit system bombings and weren't easily cowed.
"You can't not do anything, because otherwise you'd stay on the outs all the time," he said.
But Chris Denton, a 44-year-old engineer stretching his legs by the start line, acknowledged an undercurrent of anxiety. He'd asked that his family not come out to support him because of a possible copycat attack. "I left them at home," he said. "If only for my peace of mind."
The men's race was won by Ethiopian Tsegaye Kebede; the women's champion was Kenyan Priscah Jeptoo.
Among the participants in London was Tomasz Hamerlak of Poland, who finished fourth in the men's wheelchair race and had competed in Boston last week. He said he was determined to race in London.
"It is terrible what happened in Boston, but we can't look back, we must look forward," an out-of-breath Hamerlak told The Associated Press moments after crossing the finish line. "The show must go on."
A relaxed-looking Prince Harry presented awards to the wheelchair racers and mingled with spectators.
"It's fantastic, typically British," he said. "People are saying they haven't seen crowds like this for eight years around the route. It's remarkable to see."
He said it was "never an option" for him to cancel his appearance following the Boston bombings.
"No one has changed any plans, volunteers, security, nothing has changed," he said. "Typically the British way."
On Blackheath, the spacious green common area where the race begins, runners massaged one another's legs as loud pop music boomed on a sound system. A half-dozen police officers in reflective vests strolled around and chatted with the runners. Many in the crowd wore Boston T-shirts.
Moments before the majority of runners set off on the grinding course, announcer Geoff Wightman used the loudspeakers to ask for silence. He described marathon running as a global sport that unites runners and supporters in every continent in a spirit of friendship.
"This week the world marathon family was shocked and saddened by the events at the Boston Marathon," he said as he asked the people gathered to "remember our friends and colleagues for whom a day of joy turned into a day of sadness."
As those gathered responded to his call, the only noise that could be heard was the buzz of helicopters and the beeping of a truck.
Security was plentiful but not intrusive near the finish line at the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace. Marathon staff, officials and media had their bags thoroughly checked, a process not deemed necessary at the event last year. Officials said this was in response to the Boston attack.
Shirley Gillard, a 63-year-old retiree sitting on a bench at the edge of the starting area, seemed pleased with her decision to come out and watch the race. She described herself as the type of person who was always worried when spotting an unattended bag on public transport, but said people shouldn't change their habits because of what happened in Boston.
"That would be letting them win, the terrorists and lunatics," she said.
Marathon organizers plan to donate money to a Boston fund set up to help victims. They said they did not consider canceling the event, which is a highlight of the sporting calendar.
Extra security was added and there was no disruption. Hamburg organizers have said that they know of only eight people who pulled out because of the Boston bombings.