Montreal Gazette

Defiant athletes won’t cancel

Run/biking organizers reviewing security

- SUE MONTGOMERY THE GAZETTE smontgomer­y@montrealga­ Twitter: @Montgomery­Sue

As thousands of runners and cyclists train for next month’s Ottawa marathon and Montreal’s Tour de l’Île in June, event organizers are looking south to Boston and wondering how they would react if such a tragedy were to happen here.

“I was shocked and upset and maybe a little bit angry, but I wasn’t surprised it happened because we’ve discussed this in Ottawa as one of those scenarios that could happen,” said John Halvorsen, race director and president of the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. “We didn’t necessaril­y think that this was that likely, but I think we all have a sense that maybe it is more likely, especially in Ottawa, being the capital, and Montreal being a major economic centre. We have to reflect on the fact it’s possible now.”

On Monday afternoon, runners nearing the finish line at the Boston Marathon were met with an explosion that left spectators stunned and bleeding. Three people were killed.

On May 25 and 26, about 44,000 runners, one-third of them Quebecers, will descend on Ottawa to take part in various races. About 6,200 have registered to run the marathon — 42 kilometres of public space, with no way of knowing for sure who’s among the spectators.

“All marathon organizati­ons will look at (Boston) and say ‘OK, what do we do, if anything, different?’ ” Halvorsen said, adding they have establishe­d protocols for such an attack. “The thing we have to rely on is just more diligence.”

Security is always on the minds of organizers, and what happened in Boston has affected everyone, said Joëlle Sévigny, Vélo Québec’s executive director for events, which organizes Montreal’s Tour de L’Île, a festive, family-oriented ride around the island which will take place this year on June 2.

“We all have a lot of questions right now,” she said. “It’s made us

“Now we’re asking if these big events still have a place?”

Joëlle Sévigny, Vélo Québec’s executive director

question our security measures we have in place but at the same time we can’t become hysterical. We have to be pragmatic.”

She said they have hundreds of police officers, thousands of volunteers, barricades, first aid workers and dozens of ambulances lined up and try to “imagine the unimaginab­le” happening in order to prepare but at the end of the day, the events take place over a large public place. By their very nature, they are impossible to secure completely.

“Now we’re asking if these big events still have a place?” Sévigny said. “Is the risk of an attack as high in Montreal?”

Even the marathon at the Olympics — an internatio­nal event that could be a prime target for terrorists — can’t be secured, organizers say. Start or finish lines are the most vulnerable because they have the largest concentrat­ion of people and often many dignitarie­s looking on, Halvorsen noted.

The fear, sadness and anger after a tragedy like Boston shouldn’t prevent people from experienci­ng events like a marathon or cycling race which brings people together as community and focuses on health and well-being, Sévigny said.

So far, no one among the 25,000 cyclists registered to ride distances of between 25 and 100 kilometres on June 2 have cancelled. Nor have Ottawa organizers heard from nervous runners. Both events, which have been held for decades, already have establishe­d security protocols worked out with police, medical personnel and volunteers.

Halvorsen said participan­ts are posting on the marathon Facebook page that they are more determined than ever to run, “almost as an act of defiance.”

In another act of defiance and sympathy for those injured or killed in Boston, a group of Montreal runners have organized a run up Mont Royal this Sunday at 11 a.m.

And Tuesday, the Quebec National Assembly passed a unanimous motion of sympathy for Boston.

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