“I was right across the street from where the security camera showed bomb No. 2 had gone off,” Frank Shorter said, describing where he was when marathon running lost some of its innocence a year ago at the Boston Marathon.
“When I heard the first blast, I knew it was a bomb. I took a right-hand turn into a store to try to work my way back to the television truck. But nothing was moving. I was stuck. There was a baby on someone’s shoulders, and they weren’t going anywhere.”
Shorter’s first thoughts were along the lines of “not again.” He was in Munich, Germany, in 1972, when he became the last American to win the men’s marathon. Those Olympic games are remembered for the murder of Israeli athletes and coaches by terrorists. Shorter and his Olympic roommate, Dave Wottle, went up on the roof of his dorm in the midst of that incident for a first-hand look at what was happening.
“We looked at the building and saw the guy on the balcony,” Shorter said. “He had the machine gun and could have taken us all out. We were about 100 yards away. But that didn’t occur to us.”
It was a terrible coincidence that Shorter happened to be present for the two most famous intersections of sports and terrorism in history. Last year, after the second explosion in Boston, his thoughts quickly turned back to his professional colleagues who were involved in the television broadcast. Shorter had been one of the commentators on that program, and he wanted to work his way through the chaotic scene to be with the rest of the crew.
“The response as I was coming in through the store, it was amazing,” Shorter said. “There was no rush. People were aiding those who were upset or crying. People react to stress and shock in different ways. No one was looking out for themselves. I realized that set the tone.
“In that situation, your reaction is to get safe, and make sure others know you are safe.”
Shorter eventually found his TV co-workers, and then tried to comprehend the scene around him.
“I was right by the finish line, looking over the shoulder of the Boston Globe photographer that took the famous picture,” he said. “I watched the triage. The last image I remember is of someone coming over in a wheelchair. The person had no legs, and was staring straight ahead.”
Now, about a year later, another Boston Marathon will be held on April 21. Thousands of runners will be returning to the race – some to finish what they started last year, others to pay tribute to the 2013 victims, all to take part in one of the world’s great athletic events. Shorter will return to Boston as well.
“I wanted to go back,” he said. “If I was going to run the race, I’d have to be in good shape. I thought about running with Bill Rodgers, but orthopedically, it would have been a crawl. The best thing to do is to be on the telecast again.”
Shorter will be part of the crew that will work on the marathon for Universal Sports, which is available on some cable and satellite systems locally. The coverage actually starts on Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of the 2013 race, with coverage of a tribute event.
“For me, that’s where I’d like to deal with all that happened,” Shorter said. “When the gun goes off, I would hope that most would deal with it the same as I did in Munich. … I never thought about it during the race. I’m going to predict that most of the people in the race will handle it that way. You make a statement by controlling what you can control.”
Once the marathon begins, Shorter hopes it will be business as usual in terms of the broadcast. He’ll be trying to bring his insights as a former world-class distance runner to the broadcast.
“I ran to get a lead and hold on,” he said. “If a person sees a surge and lets you get 300 yards ahead, he’s made a big mistake. I try to watch the body language. That’s what you do when you are competing. You look for that from the start – who is having a good day, how comfortably they are running.
“Boston does lend itself to a front-runner. You come off the hill at Boston College and get on those flats, and it’s hard to catch you. … Every course should be run differently. Boston favors runners who can go downhill and not get beat up. The hardest part of the race is the downhill and being able to survive that downhill. The person who has good biomechanics, like Bill Rodgers, has an edge. He is one of the best downhill runners ever.”
Shorter says about 10 people have a good chance to win the marathon in both the men’s and women’s races, and about three of them have a good enough day to be a top contender. It’s tough to know who those three might be until the race starts.
Still, this is one marathon where everyone will be paying attention until the last runner makes it to the finish line.
“It’s relief through normalcy,” Shorter said. “It’s not that you assume that nothing will go on. It’s that we’re going to move forward; we’re just going to go. We aren’t ignoring the people that died. It’s just how you express yourself.
“After last year, right away I was in an event in Virginia. … I told people there, the terrorists picked the wrong demographic group. The kind of people that prepare for this – it’s not that they’ll take a selfish approach. They don’t have to do it. But they aren’t going to be deterred.”
• BPAC 6-Hour Distance Classic, Northtown Center at Amherst, 8 a.m. today.
• Bunny Hop, 5K, 1 Legion Drive, East Aurora, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, 866-0136.
• Mathletes Cindy Frank Memorial 5K, 1339 Indian Church Road, West Seneca, 9 a.m. April 26, 668-7081.
• Undy 500, 5K, Delaware Park in Buffalo, 9 a.m. April 26, (202) 628-0123, Ext. 104.
• Saps Run, various, 31 N. Main St., Franklinville, 9 a.m. April 26, 372-8184.
• UB Run for Smiles, 5K, UB South Campus (Health Sciences Library Quad), 10 a.m. April 26, (585) 507-1898.
• Run Forest Run 5K, 250 N. Forest Road, Amherst, 10 a.m. April 26, 545-7775.
• Envirun 5K, Whirlpool State Park, Niagara Falls, 10:30 a.m. April 26, 858-7897.
• Earth Run, 5K, 12857 Route 438, Irving, 11 a.m. April 26, 532-4900, Ext. 5022.
• UB Law School, 3.5 miles, Delaware Park, 9:30 a.m. April 27, 989-7092.