More than 37,000 runners will run through the streets of Chicago Sunday morning, in that city's annual marathon. Race officials say top men and women runners have a chance at setting a world record, but they have more than running on their mind this year. The September 11 attacks in New York and Washington are also in their thoughts.
It has been less than a month since hijackers flew three commercial jets into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington and many Americans are still nervous about flying. Yet, the Chicago marathon, which this year has entrants from 74 countries, has had only a few cancellations. Last year's second-place finisher among the women, Lorna Kipligat of Kenya, says she never considered canceling her Chicago appearance. "When I was preparing my trip to come here, they [friends] asked, 'Are your serious?' I said, of course, I am serious. I was there with them before this happened and I will always be there with them," she said.
More than 37,000 runners will start the marathon Sunday morning. Another million spectators will line the 42-kilometer course as it winds through Chicago's neighborhoods. Officials say it is nearly impossible to assure total security over the entire route, but security will be tighter this year than in years past.
Runners are allowed to check only clothing in specially labeled bags at the starting line. Also, television helicopters will not be allowed to fly over the course in the downtown area which includes both the start and finish lines. Race director Carey Pinkowski expects these to be only minor inconveniences. He says, while Chicago did cancel some public events in the days after the September 11 attacks, canceling the marathon was never seriously considered. "It is very important that we get back to our American way of life and our routine and show the rest of the world we have not become debilitated," he says. " We may be knocked back on our heels, but like the great heavyweight champions of America, you get up and you get going again."
Several runners have said they are more excited about running since the attacks, because holding the marathon means that life goes on despite what happened last month.
Runner Paul Tergat of Kenya says seeing pictures of the attacks was especially painful to him because of the U.S. embassy bombing in Kenya just a few years ago. "Personally, I can remember it is very fresh in my mind what happened in Kenya in 1998," he says. " It was almost the same: buildings going down and people crying, dying. This is horrific. I do not understand why people are able to do heinous attacks like this."
Race officials are hoping runners like Tergat will keep spectators' minds off of things like terrorism on Sunday. He is running in only his second marathon and is not only a favorite to win; race officials say he could set a world record. Women's favorite Catherine Ndereba of Kenya is trying for her second win in a row in Chicago, and possibly challenging the women's world marathoning record, set last Sunday in Berlin.