My Olympic Moment — Finish of the Men’s Marathon

As the barricades came down and traffic was restored, Ken, Ellen and I said goodbye to the mile chief.  We were off to the nine-mile mark, at the point where the course came back to follow the beach along Ocean Avenue.  It was only about a mile and a half away.

When we got there, it was party time in Santa Monica!  A rock band was playing, people were hanging out the windows of high-rises, and the streets were packed.  Flags were everywhere.  There was a huge British flag across the street.  The marshals were spread much thinner here, so we jumped right into line.

First we could see the aircraft — two blimps now, and three helicopters.  Then the flashing lights.  There were a couple of lead vehicles checking the course, then the timers’ bus.  Motorcycle police kept a protective screen to the wide side of the road for the lead pack.  Three ambulances were spaced evenly beside the runners.  Everything was spread out now, and it took several minutes for everyone to pass.  The large crowd was great.  Each runner received a big cheer, and the last runners were cheered just as loudly as the first.  The straggler was farther back now, so we headed back to the assembly area before he came by.

Other marshals were just coming in.  The bus hadn’t shown, but the truck with the goodies had just arrived.  Not quite as much as last time, but it all was very welcome.  We grabbed our submarine sandwiches, potato chips, cups of salad, and cans of Coke, and dashed for the car.  Off to the finish line!

Traffic was murder.  We inched toward the freeway and followed the race on a portable TV.  It looked like our luck had run out.

But once we finally got on the freeway, the traffic moved faster.  Three blimps were visible now, and their location provided a good way to gauge our progress.  We zipped off the freeway to intersect the course at the 24-mile mark again.  Maybe this will work after all.

But I misjudged the distance.  I parked too early and left us several blocks away.   (So what’s a few more blocks?)

We ran toward the course, and into the same marshal from last week.  “Hey, you came back!”

“Yes, you need any help?”

“We sure could use it.”  She motioned toward the other side of the intersections.  The ropes were up this time, but the crowd was twice as large.  Barricades were set in the crosswalk to block off the street, but the people in the street were pushing behind the barricades to get even with the curb.  One marshal was trying to watch the entire intersection, and people were getting testy (“Make him move so I can see!”).  Already we could see the flashing lights in the distance.  We just tried to keep things calm.  “You all have a good spot.  The runners will be right in front of you.  Some of you in front please sit so the people in back can see.”

People were excited, and we were bombarded with questions.  “Who’s ahead?  Do they hear us when we cheer?  What’s Alberto Salazar’s number?  (He was the top U.S. runner.)

One older woman was really, uh, unique.  “Hey, gimme your sticker.  You got all the souvenirs and I ain’t got nothin’.  I want an Olympic souvenir.”  She was asking for my course badge.  She looked on the verge of tears.

“But I need this to stay on the course.”  I looked around in a panic.  A little girl had about four ‘LA 84’ flags.  I talked her out of one, and presented it to the woman.  “Oh, thank you… but I still want that sticker.”

Now the runners were upon us.  The motorcycle police went by, then the ABC-TV camera vehicle.  But where was the leader?  No one was behind the camera vehicle like last week.

There he is, right along the curb.  I didn’t see him until he was past.  I’m just glad I wasn’t standing further out in the street.

People were clapping, yelling, and waving flags.  The street was almost solid flags.  People kept yelling “Who’s that?”  We tried to look down the course to recognize the runners, then announce them to the crowd.  But we didn’t recognize most of them.  My ‘friend’ yelled to one “Where you from?” as if she expected an answer.  The runners were all spread out now.  I would try to spot the runners, warn the crowd, kneel down so everyone could see, and keep out of the street all at the same time.  Once a policeman on the other side of the intersection yelled “You’ve got a runner.”  I whirled around.  Gliding along in the twilight within three feet of the curb was a very small African.  He blended in perfectly with the crowd.

Then there was a break.  Several people had been asking to cross.  “Does anybody need to cross the street?”  Several people started across, then more, than a whole wave.  A worried policeman came running up.  “Unless it’s an emergency, I wouldn’t let them do that.  You’ve still got runners coming.”  I readily agreed.

And come they did in two’s and three’s.  At one point, a police car came up the cross street with lights flashing.  People made a path and moved a barricade, but a runner was bearing down!  I stepped across his path and held up my hand.  “Runner coming.”  I held up one finger and the officer smiled and nodded.  I looked again.  Two fingers.  He again smiled and nodded.  I peered once more into the twilight.  Four fingers.  He was no longer smiling.

Now people were standing in the cross street almost even with the curbs of the adjacent blocks.  But they were still controllable.  I yelled “What happened to the barricades?” and everybody laughed.

Finally, here came the end.  Two runners, followed by a police car with ‘Last Runner’ and some motorcycles.  But was it?  “There’s one more runner, but he’s walking and he’s a half an hour away.”  The other policemen nodded and began opening the street to traffic.

I ducked away from that woman and rejoined Ken and Ellen.  Ellen had given her badge away, but I felt like I deserved mine.  As we walked slowly back to my car, traffic was very heavy.  People were honking horns, yelling and waving flags.  A man waved his hat at me from a pickup truck.

“Hey man, trade my hat for yours.  Only in America, c’mon, trade you hats!  AW, C’MON MAN!”

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