My Olympic Moment — The Start of the Men’s Marathon

The women’s marathon had been new territory.  We all had been tentative and unsure.  But the men’s marathon would be different.  Everyone knew exactly what to expect.  Also, we would be wide awake.

The plan was about the same, only we allowed an extra hour for traffic.  We shouldn’t have worried; we arrived at the assembly area 50 minutes early.  More uniforms were being passed out; apparently there were some new recruits.  The weather was hot and windy.  Bottled water was available.  Some people were wearing shorts, then changing into the required long pants at the last minute.  I saw two people in marshals’ uniforms in wheelchairs.

Everyone moved to the bus pick-up point at 2:30.  By now people were pouring in.  The rumor was extra people had been invited to cover no-shows.  While waiting for the bus, we tried to find shade and helped people untangle rope.  The three-mile crew got a pep talk from their mile chief.  They were proud that Joan Benoit had made her winning move in their mile!  Our mile chief took a quick count.  “We’re 54 short,” she gulped.  There was one big improvement — rosters of the runners.  I grabbed a couple of extras to give to spectators.

The buses arrived promptly at 3:00.  They were marked ‘Marathon Technical Officials’.  We piled in and headed for the course.  There were plenty of additional rumors — what the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee was going to do with all the used equipment, how the women’s marathon went, what volunteers at other events were getting as souvenirs.  A woman behind me was in a green uniform.  She had been working crowd control at field hockey and had been drafted to help us out.  The man next to me had volunteered to work the race walks.  “I was out there all day yesterday, ” he sighed.

New badges were passed out.  These were a different color. And no wires for the belt loop this time; we just peeled off the backing and stuck them to our shirts.  There were more “LA 84” flags to give to spectators, too.

This Sunday the crowds were twice as big and twice as early.  But we were ready.  Barricades were just being erected to close the cross street, the police were out in force, and there were Olympic workers in every color uniform.  We had someone every ten feet.  Some marshals had apparently come straight to the course.  My position was at about the same place as the previous week.

This time the streets were roped off.  Actually, this was a pain because we had to keep moving rope to let vehicles on the course.  ABC-TV’s electric camera vehicle and motorcycle-mounted camera platform showed up at 4:10.

People were already four-deep, but they were very cooperative.  The flags were going fast.  One photographer asked for directions; he wanted to photograph other photographers.  A bike rider asked where the bike-escort convoy was forming (about 50 bicycles had paralleled the women’s race).  He was very upset when we told him that wasn’t part of the official program.  The wind was blowing so hard it was knocking down decorations.  Some of the Swiss Timers were wearing shorts.

At 4:40, the order went out to “get the cars for the crisis team moving.”  Race Director Len Wallach was back with his bullhorn.  “Race marshals, remember why you are out here.”  The police positioned two cars with ‘Last Runner’ signs right in front of us to the groans of spectators (“Are they going to leave them THERE?”).  Retired marathoner and commentator Bill Rodgers took his seat on the outside of the ABC vehicle, facing backwards to watch the runners; he was actually suspended over the road.

At 4:50 we closed the crosswalk.  Toward the stadium, I could see several runners warming up.  Nine motorcycle policemen moved out onto the course.  Counting ABC, there were now five lead vehicles.  One was a small pickup with a digital clock and distance display.  When its clock started, we knew the race had begun inside the stadium.  Then came the timers running out of the stadium.  We finally figured out what their jobs were — each had a stopwatch.  They stayed inside the stadium and started their watches exactly when the race started, then ran for their bus as the athletes circled the track.  The bus dropped them on the course at key points so they could give accurate intermediate times as the athletes passed.

All the vehicles pulled away, and here came the runners!  They were in one huge pack (with one straggler again), and between watching the crowd and the police cars next to me, I didn’t have time to look.  After the last runner, the police cars pulled away, followed by about six ambulances.  “That’s it, folks.”  It only took seconds, but none of the spectators seemed disappointed.

NEXT:  Watching From Two Other Milepoints

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