The [Tuesday] Papers
The fallout from the Chicago Marathon continues along four lines of inquiry.
1. Did race officials screw up?
Yes. It's obvious from the testimony of runners, observers, and volunteer workers that the water and Gatorade supply was inadequate, to say the least, no matter what excecutive race director Carey Pinkowski says.
And Pinkowski isn't doing himself any favors speaking in such cold, mechanical tones, seemingly blaming runners for cooling themselves with the water they did find, and bringing a bottle of water to sip at his press conference on Monday. Hello?
Runner Kristin Stroud of Chicago writes to the Sun-Times this morning that "I don't disagree with calling the race given the conditions. But after all of the training I put into the race, to have it taken away from me because of the organizers' lack of planning was extremely frustrating. I was concerned last week about the availability of water and Gatorade after a severe shortage during the LaSalle Bank Chicago Distance Classic this summer. I was right to be concerned."
More damning is this letter from Anne Wysock of Downers Grove to the Tribune: "For those running in the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, I am deeply sorry for the lack of preparation on part of the organizers of the race. I acted as a medical assistant at the finish line of the race. The runners needed water, desperately, and I was not allowed to pass it out to them at the line.
"When I tried hauling water closer to the finish, I was literally forced to put the water down and not pass it out. I was given no reason for this absurdity, just reprimanded for trying to do my utmost to help. The water and Gatorade station was about a block from the finish line. As heat exhausted runners crossed the finish line and I braced their falls, there was no water. But there were plenty of warming sheets. This race was poorly organized."
2. Was the death of Chad Schieber heat-related?
Yes. The media reported otherwise on Monday based on a statement by the Cook County medical examiner. What the media - including today's Sun-Times - failed to ask was if Chad Schieber's pre-existing heart condition was exacerbated by the heat. In other words, was his heart ready to give out even if he was at home sitting on the couch? Or, was it the act of running a marathon that caused his heart condition to become fatal?
The Tribune addresses this issue this morning, though there is still one missing piece of the puzzle. A couple of experts the paper talked to said the heat must have had something to do with Scheiber's death; his heart condition wasn't something alone that would have been fatal. So . . . was it running a marathon in such hot and humid conditions, or was it that final link of inadequate fluids being available?
Schieber's family isn't blaming race officials for his death. But the facts are not all in yet.
3. Was this the runners' own fault?
No. Oh sure, the Tribune's Mike Downey would like you think so. Buy the ticket, take the ride. But even the worst runners out there entered the race with the reasonable expectation that in exchange for their ($110) entry fee they wouldn't have to drink water from city fountains or duck into 7-11s to find relief.
If a hot and humid day would have felled a few folks anyway, that would have been par for the course. Happens every year. What happened on Sunday was of a different magnitude.
4. Will this affect the city's 2016 Olympic bid?
I'm not an expert on the intelligence levels of International Olympic Committee members, but if a majority of them have half a brain, the answer is no, unless we learn more about an inadequate city response. The apparent shortage of ambulances, for example. But otherwise, the Chicago Marathon is a private event.
The city would be well-advised to review its heat emergency plan - if anything, it's the city's criminal response to the1995 heat wave that should give the IOC pause - but otherwise this seems beyond the bounds of reason.
University of Chicago sports economist Allen Sanderson, whose work I often quote favorably, told the Tribune that the IOC wasn't likely to make the distinction between public and private, but I find it hard to believe they are that dense.
The disintegration of the CTA and the Daley administration's penchant for cost overruns on big projects that don't get finished on time should be of much bigger concern to Olympics boosters.
"Many of the slowest [runners] are among those lured by the new mantra of marathon organizers, that the idea is not to run a marathon but simply to cover 26.2 miles, no matter how - or how long it takes.
"I decried that philosophy in a column after the 2001 Chicago race, suggesting qualifying standards were need to 'shrink a field (then 37,500) that seems to be stretching medical and other support services.'"
If it's impractical to enlarge support services instead, Hersh makes a decent point, though instinctually I'm in favor of an open field. But that's based on a general philosophical and cultural feel about what makes the Chicago Marathon special. To race organizers, Hersh suggests, it's about the money.
"[T]he revenue from a $110 entry fee is too tempting (Chicago took in nearly $1 million from 9,000 entrants who did not start). But a smaller field should mean smaller expenses. And, perhaps, smaller runners.
"A marathon is not for everybody. It is well past the time for race organizers and many would-be participants to realize that. Both sides are equally guity of impaired judgment."
* The Tribune editorial page, as usual, takes a more measured approach and nicely summarizes the whole affair.
The Beachwood Tip Line: For all seasons.
Posted on October 9, 2007
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