Jerusalem’s first-ever marathon ended in amusing confusion last weekend, with a Kenyan runner, said to have taken a wrong turn, crossing the finish line for the half-marathon and still winning.
But all was judged to have turned out well, and correctly, in the end. Organisers said Raymond Kipkoech, 34, was electronically logged as having run the qualifying distance in the shortest time despite not having crossed the official line for his event. He ran the 42.2 kilometre endurance event in two hours, 26.44 minutes.
Steve Brown, a New Zealand tourist who saw the incident, told AFP the confusion occurred several hundred metres before the finish line when the race outriders were directing the runners into separate lanes - one heading to the marathon finish line, and the other to the half-marathon finish.
“I saw the guy sprinting diagonally across the intersection and into the other lane and two others followed him, and the marshals on motorbikes were saying: ‘He’s gone into the wrong lane!’,” Brown said.
In second place, 11 seconds behind him, was Mutai Kopkorir, 24, and coming third, with a time of 2:27:19, was Kiman Njorage, 33, both of them also Kenyans, organisers said.
About 10,000 participants took part in the messy marathon, held in the shadow of a fatal bus bombing and in the face of opposition from Palestinians and leftist Israelis.
The race, which passed through stretches of Jerusalem’s annexed Arab eastern sector, forced the closure of many city streets and left the few thoroughfares remaining open choked with bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Apart from the full course, participants had the option of running the half-marathon, a 10-kilometre course or a 4.2-kilometre fun-run.
Following a Wednesday bomb attack next to Jerusalem’s central bus station, in which a British bible student was killed and more than 30 people were wounded, Mayor Nir Barkat defied suggestions the event be cancelled over security concerns.
“When terror attempts to disrupt our way of life, the best solution is to get back to normal as quickly as possible,” he told reporters at the bomb scene.
Nevertheless, international participants were understandably nervous. Noella Pio Kivlehan, an Irish runner who flew from London on Thursday to compete in the half marathon, said she had considered pulling out after Wednesday’s bomb, which took place less than a kilometre from the race meeting point in Sakher Park.
“I have to admit I’m feeling a bit nervous,” she told AFP.
“I keep looking at all these crowds of people with bags and wondering if one of them contains a bomb.”
Organisers said the field included 2,000 Israeli soldiers and more than 1,000 visiting competitors with the largest foreign delegations coming from the United States, Italy, Germany and France.
Starting from the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, the route took runners up and down several hills, through the walled Old City and other areas of east Jerusalem.