Jerusalem holds city's first marathon

Updated: March 25, 2011, 10:57 AM ET
Associated Press

JERUSALEM -- More than 10,000 runners dashed alongside ancient sites Friday in the Jerusalem's first marathon, just two days after a bombing in the city killed a British woman and wounded dozens of others.

Police deployed helicopters, observation units and special patrols to protect the race, which participants and officials said symbolizes Israel's resolve not to succumb to violence.

Mayor Nir Barkat announced within hours of Wednesday's bombing that the marathon would proceed as planned.

"The best way to deal with terror is to show the terrorists that we're not going to move away ... we're not going to be scared," Barkat said Friday.

About 1,100 people ran the 26.2-mile race, with 34-year-old Raymond Kipkoech of Kenya winning in 2 hours, 26 minutes, 44 seconds. More than 9,000 others took part in the half-marathon and other events.

The route along Jerusalem's steep streets took runners through the walled Old City, alongside the president's residence and up Mount Scopus to circle the campus of Hebrew University.

"I've run 72 marathons in my life, but this was one of the most difficult marathons in the world," Polish runner Wioletta Kryza told The Associated Press.

Despite the city's tough inclines, Barkat -- himself an avid runner -- hopes to elevate Jerusalem to the list of cities that host major annual marathons. The municipality said more than 1,000 non-Israeli runners came from 40 nations to compete in the city held sacred by Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Upon crossing the finish line, French sportswriter Pascal Silvestre said despite the high security and the difficulty of the course, he was impressed by the quiet atmosphere Jerusalem afforded.

"I have a lot of friends in Paris who are going to be coming next year because they're Jewish," Silvestre said. "They love the idea of running in Jerusalem."

Yet almost everything in Jerusalem has deep political overtones -- and the marathon is no exception.

Some pro-Palestinian groups objected to the marathon's route, which also passed briefly through disputed east Jerusalem, claiming the athletic event was a political tool to demonstrate Israel's sovereignty over areas claimed by Palestinians. Three city council members asked adidas, the marathon's top sponsor, to withdraw its support.

The opening stretch of the marathon's route came within blocks of the bus stop -- now lined by flower memorials -- where a bomb ripped open the side of a bus Wednesday, reigniting fears of another wave of violence. The explosion killed Mary Jean Gardner, a 59-year-old British tourist studying in Jerusalem, and injured two dozen others, including five Americans.

"If we stop running and stop living our lives, that's what the terrorists want us to do," said Moshe Strassman, 22, who ran a 10-kilometer race that was part of the event Friday. "Instead of terrorism decaying us, we'll do the opposite."


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press