Ray Petersen –
NIZWA, jan 18 –
Who embodies the spirit of marathon running more than Paula Radcliffe? Nobody since Pheidippides, the Greek messenger, quite typifies the brutal nature of the ultimate athletic challenge.
Yet, Radcliffe is the ultimate ambassador for the event, with an engaging personality and a ready smile. “I still run every day,” she laughed, “but now I do it for fun!” Radcliffe was an athletic superstar who is still seen as a super star of athletics, instantly recognizable, unique among those who have displayed courage, intensity, and an ability to beat the odds in the brutal, unforgiving, rarified world of top-level athletics. Why? Maybe because she tells us to, “Laugh a lot. It’s good for you.”
If Jim Furyk, the American golfer, has a unique golf swing, referred to as a “frog in a blender,” how on earth do we characterize Radcliffe’s inelegant, head-bobbing style? The truth is, we don’t, because the gutsy commitment she displayed in her running tended to allow ordinary people, with ordinary faults and flaws, to identify with her, and want to identify with her, wanting her to do well, to succeed, and to win. Alone, by force of her achievements, her integrity and her gritty determination, she allowed those among us imperfect, to dream.
BIG RUN, BIG DAY
And here she was, at 6.30 on a humid Muscat morning, sharing the starter’s rostrum with David Graham, CEO of Oman Sail, and Paul Starrs Chief Commercial Officer of Oman Air, and as one competitor said, gesturing in the direction of one of his idols, “What more do you need to get pumped up? Big run, big day, and Paula Radcliffe, life doesn’t get any better does it?” Then, to the sound of a klaxon, the elite athletes burst away from the start followed by the hundreds of other marathon, half-marathon and marathon relay competitors. Starrs explained that, “As the representative of the national carrier, and a partner in the event with Oman Sail, it was a privilege for me to share the rostrum with such an icon, and a really good person. I don’t actually mind too much being, ‘the guy next to Paula,” he laughed.
Radcliffe further endeared herself to many of the competitors as she completed the 10 km event with a massive smile on her face, and then turned around and went back down the course ten or a dozen times to run the last 100 metres with exhausted competitors, and she explained that “I was especially keen to encourage the women athletes, as the number competing this year has risen dramatically, and I wanted to give them a boost, thus sealing her status as the perfect event ambassador.
EXPERIENCE FOR SPECTATORS
It took what seemed like an age for the mass of runners to clear the start area, but one very satisfied and confident spectator in the VIP area was the General Manager of Operations for the Royal Oman Police, Said Suliman al Asmi, who was able to reflect upon the preparations for the event. “We have an excellent team out on the road,” he said, “and have allowed for every contingency in our planning. It’s good to work with Oman Sail on the planning of the route, and we are confident we have more than enough people out on the road to have a good race for the athletes, and a good spectator experience as well.”
‘IT’S JUST WONDERFUL’
Oman Sail of course are the Sultanate’s premier event management organisation, and their CEO Graham explained that, “Events such as this couldn’t happen without the support and encouragement of the various government ministries and agencies, and as industry drivers, they impact significantly on national tourism objectives.” He and Al Mouj CEO Nasser bin Masoud al Sheibani, gave the impression of being very satisfied as they strolled around the Al Mouj complex, Sheibani admitting to “Not being ready to run a marathon, yet. But I’m very happy to see so many people here. It’s just wonderful.”
The marathon is a special and demanding event, wherever it takes place, and winner of the main event 28-year-old Kenyan Ronald Kipcoech Korir’s first language is Swahili, however in spite of that Korir was able to express his satisfaction with his time of 2hrs 13min 36sec, a very good one considering the humid conditions, although he was surprised at his winning margin over another Kenyan John Langat of more than two minutes. Langat himself had admitted to being confident of a good performance pre-race and sneaked second by a mere two seconds over Uganda’s Jackson Kiprop.
The Under-Secretary for Oil and Gas, Salim bin Nasser al Aufi, led the prizegiving delegation, and the Under-Secretary for Tourism, Maitha al Mahrouqi, had probably the most telling perspective of the event nationally, the latter admitting that, “although the focus, as a government is to continue to prioritise tourism, and we’ve certainly been successful looking at the participants and winners, it is vitally important too that we continue to promote sport as a healthy lifestyle alternative for current and future generations of Omanis. Oman Sail, Oman Air, and Al Mouj are to be congratulated for joining the government in these objectives with their continued support of the two initiatives and creating such a wonderful event.” Finishing on a positive note, she empathically declared, “I really do think we will see twice as many people here next year.”
So there you have it. A wonderful day, a wonderful event, and lots of exhausted maybe, but happy and empowered competitors and participants, not to mention the thousands of spectators at Al Mouj, and along the route. It is an event worthy of its growing international reputation, and the only thing on anyone’s wish list……………….. “Please bring back Paula Radcliffe, because stars like her are hard to come by!”