Boston Marathon cancelled for first time in its 124-year history; 2021 edition slated for 19 April

The New York Times

The Boston Marathon was cancelled for the first time in its 124-year history, officials announced Thursday, as the spread of the coronavirus made clear that earlier plans to postpone the race until September were too optimistic.

The race €" the most prominent marathon in the United States €" has been held annually since 1897, even amid world wars, periods of domestic tension and in snow and rainstorms.

But with experts saying mass events remain a clear danger throughout the country while the coronavirus persists, the Boston Athletic Association and Mayor Martin J Walsh of Boston announced the marathon would not take place in 2020 as a "traditional, one-day event," even as other sports leagues have recently made plans to return to play.

Organisers intend to hold a "virtual" marathon, with people running the 26.2 miles remotely.

"It's really saddening to have to largely call off what is one of the best weekends of the year in Boston, but with the 100,000 people dead around the country, one could not do something as irresponsible as the holding of a large event," said Tom Grilk, chief executive of the BAA.

The Boston Marathon, originally scheduled for 20 April, was initially postponed in March and rescheduled for 14 September. But as the severity of the pandemic grew it became clear that September was not realistic for a race that regularly brings hundreds of thousands of people together.

"While our goal and our hope is to make progress in containing the virus and recovering our economy, this kind of event would not be responsible or realistic on September 14 or any time this year," Walsh said on Twitter.

There have been more than 5.6 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide. On Wednesday, the United States reached a grim milestone of more than 100,000 deaths.

The pandemic has brought the sports world to a halt, and leagues coming back to play are largely doing so without fans.

The Boston Marathon has a field of 30,000 runners €" the majority of whom qualify for the race by running fast enough to meet a standard for their age group €" and a strong elite field that includes many international runners. Hundreds of thousands of fans cheer on the sides, and thousands of volunteers ensure a smooth race.

The race, which follows a historic course from Boston's western suburbs to its downtown, usually takes place on Patriots' Day, a state holiday in Massachusetts celebrating the start of the Revolutionary War. It serves as one of the major civic events for Massachusetts and New England.

Other than the Olympic trials, it is the only major marathon in the country that most runners have to qualify for. Doing so is a major accomplishment for weekend warriors, and the athletic association does not allow runners to defer their entries for a year if they get injured. Around 6,000 runners get into the race by committing to raise money for charity.

Grilk said runners signed up for this year will receive a full refund, whether or not they participate in this year's event virtually. Also, the qualifying window for the 2021 marathon has been pushed back a year, so anyone who has run a qualifying time since September 2018, will be able to apply for next year's race.

The race brings more than $200 million to the city.

In a statement, Desi Linden, the 2018 women's champion, said the cancellation was "definitely disappointing news, but certainly not surprising."

"I'm sad to miss out an opportunity to compete this year, but the Boston Marathon as an event is as resilient as its participants," added Linden, who is planning to compete next year.

The cancellation of the Boston race heightened uncertainty surrounding the fall road racing season. The London Marathon, another race among the six Abbott World Marathon Majors, was also postponed from its original run date of 26 April to 4 October. It is still on the calendar. The Berlin Marathon, scheduled for late September, will not take place on that date, though organisers have yet to announce a cancellation.

The 2021 Boston Marathon is scheduled for 19 April.

With Boston cancelled, the question now is whether major marathons will take place in Chicago in October or in November in New York, which holds the country's largest marathon. Asked recently during a news conference about a decision regarding the New York City Marathon, Mayor Bill De Blasio said such large events were "the last piece of the puzzle" in terms of reopening.

"I think it's fair to say it's going to be a while before we're comfortable with any large gathering," DeBlasio said.

Talya Minsberg and Matthew Futterman c.2020 The New York Times Company

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