The Tokyo Marathon has joined the World Marathon Majors, matching the prestige of Boston, Chicago, New York, London and Berlin in the elite marathon series group.
Each of the World Marathon Majors attracts the top male and female distance runners in the world and boasts a $1 million prize pot to the winners.
In accepting the honor, Tokyo race director Tad Hayano expressed sympathies for the victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York.
“We offer our sympathies to those in New York who have suffered through Hurricane Sandy,” said Hayano.
“As you may be aware, we in Japan went through the tsunami last year, so we can relate to what you’re experiencing.”
Hayano’s words offered a sobering reminder that it was just a little over a year ago that the tiny island nation of Japan endured a devastating tsunami that resulted in over 19,300 deaths and $300 billion in property damage. Still, the country moved on, and has made a tremendous recovery in a very short period of time.
Meanwhile, the 2012 New York City Marathon continues to fuel heated debate as some insist it should have been canceled due to its proximity to Hurricane Sandy. In response, both race officials and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg underscored the event’s financial and symbolic importance to the city.
“Some people said you shouldn’t run the marathon,” said Bloomberg, 70. “There’s an awful lot of small businesses that depend on these people. We have to have an economy. There’s lots of people that have come here.
“It’s a great event for New York, and for those who were lost, you’ve got to believe they would want us to have an economy and have a city go on for those that they left behind.”
Similarly, race officials pointed to the race’s significance to the city as both an athletic event and as a revenue producer.
“The marathon really epitomizes the spirit of New York City: the vitality, the tenacity, the determination of New Yorkers,” said Mary Wittenburg, president of the New York Road Runners, which organizes the NYC Marathon.
The New York City Marathon and the financial impact it has on the city (estimated at $350 million) can provided much-needed revenue to help with hurricane recovery.
While tabloids are slamming marathon officials for using electric generators to power up its media center in Central Park, race officials pointed out that the electrical resources are not interfering with the city’s hurricane recovery.
“These are our private generators,” said NYRR rep Richard Finn. “We are not draining any resources from the city’s plan to recover.”
As it is, the Upper West Side and Upper East Side regions of Manhattan sustained very little damage from Hurricane Sandy, and never lost power through the storm.
As the debate rages on, it bears noting that the 2001 NYC Marathon continued just seven weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — the largest non-natural disaster in U.S. history — as a way to show the world the city’s resilience.
While some have slammed the NYRR on its Facebook page for not canceling the marathon, even top contenders say having the event proceed is a good idea.
“[Going forward with the marathon is] something positive,” said American Meb Keflezighi, who won the race in 2009.
“Because it will be motivation to say, ‘Look what happened, and we’ll put on the race, and we’ll give them a good show.’ ”
[Update: The NYC Marathon has been canceled.]