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Running: Frank Shorter in Munich and Boston

 

FRANK SHORTER

Frank Shorter crosses the finish line at the Munich Olympics

winning the gold medal in the marathon. (GK)

 

In the summer of 1972, Frank Shorter had qualified for the marathon and was representing the USA at the Olympics in Munich.  According to his personal account, Shorter’s dorm room in the Olympic Village was about 150 yards from the building where Black September terrorists had kidnapped the entire delegation of Israeli athletes. Shorter became alerted to the evolving news on the dorm’s television.  He looked out his window and saw terrorists holding machine guns on the balcony. The 8 terrorists and 11 athletes would all later die in a failed ambush at the Munich airport. The event stands as one of the worst tragedies in modern athletic history.

Shorter, a resident of Boulder, Colorado, is now 65 and an elder statesman for the running community in the country.  He chairs the Bolder Boulder, a 10k race held every year in his city by the Flat Irons. Shorter is credited with encouraging and boosting the American running movement.

On Monday, April 16, 2013, more than 40 years after Munich, Shorter was again only yards away from tragedy.  Working for NBC Sports as a commentator at the Boston Marathon, Shorter was walking into a store in downtown Boston.  He had been delayed from getting to the broadcast truck and decided to take a shortcut through a department store, when the first of two bombs exploded.

According to Joe Rubino, of the Daily Camera:[1]

The explosion rocked the large crowds gathered near the finish line. A few moments later, the second bomb went off, just 40 feet away from the vestibule where Shorter was standing. “Unfortunately, I guess, I’ve had the experience in this situation that my thought process went right to the conclusion that it was a bomb,” Shorter said of hearing the first explosion. “Then, I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. Anyone close to this … there are going to be fatalities here.’”

Shorter made his way through the store and eventually to the broadcast trucks, near the race medical tents. Despite the shocking nature of the event, Shorter said he saw many people react with levelheadedness and compassion, from public safety officials to onlookers to racers.

“I walked by people being triaged and being loaded into ambulances. There were people who were very upset and other people who were comforting them. It was almost like this me-first attitude was being suspended.  I did not see one person who seemed confused or in a state of panic or who did not know what to do. It was like everyone made a decision, whether through instinct or training, and they did it.”

Shorter’s own instincts told him to return to Race Headquarters, where it was safer.  “You don’t think; you just react, and I think my reaction was that of an athlete. For me, the reaction is movement. Keep trying to find safer and safer ground.”

Frank Shorter had been to the Boston Marathon twenty-seven times — five as a competitor and twenty-two times as the color commentator for television broadcasts. “I had been there so many times. I was very familiar with the whole layout of the area.  I think that is what makes it even more extreme in a way. It’s an environment you’re very comfortable in, and then suddenly it’s never the same. Everyone will view that finish line in a different way.”

In 1972, Shorter refused to let tragedy or fear stop him. He reflected on the night before the marathon with his former teammate, Kenny Moore: “Your immediate response cannot be fear, because fear is the major objective of the terrorist act. You simply decide, and make yourself not be fearful. If you can do that, it allows you to be more objective. And then, at least my thought process then goes on to, ‘OK, what can we do? What do we do?’ Then, as long as you feel that you’ve done all you can do, you just have to let go of any fear and see what happens.”  Shorter’s strength emerged in Munich and he won the gold, the first US gold in the marathon since 1908.

In an interview this spring, Shorter went on to say, “It was incredible to see all of the pictures of the victims in Boston over and over again on the news.  It reminded me that 40 years ago there were no images of the Israeli athletes who were killed.  It just happened.”

Munich MassacreTerrorist  at the Israeli OlympicTeam Headquarters
during the Munich Massacre

Shorter knows that “giving in to fear” in either Munich or Boston would only perpetuate the evil design of terrorists. He hopes the rest of the running community feels the same. Shorter believes that people in a huge sign of solidarity will turn out for the Bolder Boulder 10K and marathons around the world.  Frank also hopes that the finish line of the Boston Marathon is in the same place next year. “Fear cannot win the day…don’t give anyone, no matter who it is, the satisfaction of reacting to what they have done out of fear or fear of what might happen.”

In Portland, Oregon and cities all over the country, races in support of Boston have broken out through crowd sourcing social media.  The crowds are braving wind and rain and cold to honor the injured and dead in Boston. We pray for the victims, the perpetrators and the running community.  We also pray that Frank Shorter is right and fear loses the day.

Post Script

Frank Shorter participated as support for a group of “Old Blues” at the Hood to Coast race in late August, 2013.  Having had hip surgery just months before, Shorter was still limping between exchanges at the crazy relay race in Portland, when I caught up with him.  “You know we all feel like Bostonians in a year like this.  Just as we all were New Yorkers after 9-11.” 

The story of how Portland, Oregon, got its name came to mind for the New England educated “Old Blues.”  The city’s name was determined in 1845 by witnesses of a “gentlemen’s bet.” The legend is that Asa Lovejoy, from Boston, Massachusetts, wanted the town to be named after his hometown, and Francis Pettygrove of Portland, Maine, wanted it named after his hometown.  With the flip of a penny, Pettygrove won, and so did the citizens of Portland, Oregon it seems. “We are a coin toss away from being called Boston,” said a Portlander on the Old Blues team, “we feel close to those who live there…it is like our second-sister city.”

Frank Shorter was in a upbeat mood, as his fellow Yalies, all over 50, were holding their own in the grueling 198 mile relay race from Mt. Hood to Seaside. He spoke with me about his recent Post-Boston trials: “We had a great turn out for Bolder Boulder, as runners from Kenya, Ethiopia, Mexico and all over the world helped us celebrate the 35th anniversary of our Colorado tradition.” And although the crowd was lower than it has been since 2006, Shorter said the security and protection were beefed up enough for all participants and spectators to feel safe.

Hundreds of Marathons on every continent, except Antarctica, have been run with great success this year.  And many more are planned up to and including next year’s Boston Marathon. The race committee of the BAA is looking into keeping everyone safe while in Boston.  They have not made a final decision on the course for 2014, but they will do so with confidence.  As Shorter advised, BAA officials should not give in to other factions out of fear of what they might do.

 


[1] Marathon legend Frank Shorter witnessed Munich, Boston sports tragedies – The Denver Posthttp://www.denverpost.com/nationworld/ci_23044286/boulders-frank-shorter-witnessed-munich-boston-sports-tragedies#ixzz2Qk27dv00

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