FORUM – Murad Quresh: ‘why can’t marathon end at London Olympic Stadium in 2012’

WHO is Sebastian Coe kidding when he claims that the marathon can’t finish at the Olympic Stadium in 2012? 

The question both he and LOCOG (London Organising Committee  of the Olympic Games) need to ask themselves is: when have the Olympics had a marathon that doesn’t end at the Olympic Stadium? 

With the exception of Athens 2004 (for very good historical reasons as it followed the original course of the marathon at the Games in Greece 1896), every Olympic city has managed to have the marathon end at their Olympic stadium – including London in 1908 and 1948.

I am surprised that  Seb Coe, commonly perceived as the IOC (International Olympic Committee) lackey, hasn’t told us that it’s an IOC bid requirement that we must fulfil at all costs.  

But a history lesson is in order to him and others. In 1908, the marathon began in Windsor Castle and ended in the White City Stadium in west London when London stepped   in to help the Olympic movement out at very short notice after a volcanic eruption meant Rome could no longer host it. 

The distance from    the start of the marathon to the finish at the stadium was established at these games as being 26 miles, 385 yards to accommodate the start from Windsor, when previously the distance varied wildly. 

The most famous incident of the games came at the end of the marathon when the first to enter the stadium, Dorando Pietri of Italy, collapsed several times and ran the wrong way.  

Then in 1948 immediately after the war, the marathon began and finished at Wembley Stadium. The event came to be known as the “Austerity Games” due to the economic climate and post-war rationing. 

No new venues were built for the Games and athletes were housed in existing accommodation instead of an Olympic Village. 

The marathon again saw a dramatic finish with the first man to enter the stadium, Etienne Gailly of Belgium, exhausted and nearly unable to run. While he was struggling, he was overtaken by Delfo Cabrera of Argentina and also Thomas Richards of Great Britain. Cabrera won the gold and Gailly recovered enough to earn the bronze.  

Seb gives us questionable 21st-century logistical reasons for not being able to finish at the stadium when we were perfectly able to achieve this at the beginning of the 20th century in much more trying circumstances. 

He says that it would require the closure of Tower Bridge and key artery roads in central and east London; however, this is no different from when the annual London marathon starts in south-east London with participants who can literally take all day to complete the course. So why should it prove so difficult in 2012, in far less difficult times?  

Unfortunately, I suspect the marketing boys have got to LOCOG and outmanoeuvred the transport experts. Surely it is not beyond the wit of Transport for London to devise a route that complies with all the requirements. Style over substance has been championed by the powers that be as the more scenic route past Buckingham Palace along Pall Mall has been chosen to showcase Royal London at the end of the Games instead of the new stadium in the traditional East End. 

If we could do it in 1908 and 1948, we can certainly do it in 2012.

Lord Coe and LOCOG need to rethink their priorities and keep to Olympic tradition and not fall under the spell of the marketeers. 

Unfortunately, this decision means that another tradition the London Games will be missing out on is a dramatic finish to the marathon on its last lap in the stadium. 

• Murad Qureshi is Labour London Assembly Member for Westminster 

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