By Mitchel Olszak
CNHI News Service
NEW CASTLE, Penn. —
The finish line of a road race serves as the division between one world and another. Ahead of the finish line, there is structure and discipline, with attention paid to the runners as they cross over. Spectators are kept back, mainly to avoid interfering with the participants — and perhaps to keep them from being trampled.
Once they finish a race, runners are herded quickly through a chute to keep the proper order. Or else — courtesy of modern technology — their times are recorded by chips attached to their shoes.
From that point, the race is over, and participants are left mostly to their own devices. They may get a medical assessment if finish line crews detect a problem. But for the most part, they just wander off, perhaps to catch up with family and friends who may be milling about the area.
That, in a nutshell, was the scene a week ago when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The explosives apparently were set to target people in the area, rather than the runners.
At the time, no one seemed to have noticed two men identified as suspects put down backpacks and walk away. No surprise there. At a marathon, there will be lots of people with backpacks and other bags carrying spare clothing, drinks, food, etc. And plenty of other things are happening at the time to draw the attention of race workers.
I note these things as someone who has participated in more races than I can recall, including multiple marathons. I have volunteered at races and directed them. I know the drill.
In these roles, looking for bombs was never on my list of things to do. And it still makes little sense. What gain, even in the mind of a fanatical terrorist, comes from killing and maiming people as they mill about the finish line of a foot race?
One suspect in the Boston bombing has been killed and another captured. In the coming days, we will learn much more about them and their mindsets. Perhaps even something akin to a motive will be identified.
There’s a good chance it will be discovered that the marathon was targeted more as a convenience than any sort of a strategy by two angry young men seeking only to lash out. They lived in the area and perhaps knew they could gain access to the finish line with minimal effort. But they apparently didn’t grasp that the real risk in their plot would come after videos of the scene were viewed.
A few months ago, in the wake of a massacre of children at a Connecticut school, I wrote that the inevitable increase in security wouldn’t end violence. It would just shift it to other soft targets.
In many ways, the finish line of a road race is very soft.
Maybe it won’t be that way any more. Maybe there will be new restrictions, more extensive security. Or maybe many races that are financially marginal will just go away.
That would be unfortunate, and not just for runners. I suspect that people — of all ideological ilk who are prone to violence — see the restrictive response to acts of terrorism. To them, it’s an enticement to commit their own acts.
But reports that came out of Boston the day of the bombing dealt more with average people rushing to the area and doing all they could to assist the victims. It was a statement of courage in the face of terrorism, rather than fear.
That’s the real response to terrorism. The more we turn America and its facilities into armed camps, the more victories we give to those who espouse violence.
MITCHEL OLSZAK is a columnist for the New Castle (Pa.) News.