Sports Fans Send Message to Terrorists

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- On April 15, two pressure-cooker bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding more than 250. Within moments, the joy and excitement of the spectators lining Boylston Street turned to shock and horror, and the lives of the victims were changed forever.

But you didn't have to be in Boston to be affected. The entire country shared in the heartbreak, in part because the attack occurred at an open, public place where thousands were gathered in celebration. Exactly the kind of place we've all been to many times before, like a Memorial Day parade or a concert on the Fourth of July.

With so many touched by the tragedy, will participants and spectators stay away from large sporting events in the future?

That scenario seems unlikely, despite the widespread anger and pain. Or perhaps because of it.

Interest in qualifying for next year's Boston Marathon is already 15 to 20 times higher than any point since 2008, based on Google trend analysis performed by the Web site RunTri.com.

Runner's World reports that registrations for late August and September marathons have surged nationwide as runners hope to lock down qualifying times before the Boston Marathon registration window opens in September.

Clearly, people are running toward Boston and other marathons, not away from them.

Competitor Group, which owns and operates the popular Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series, has already held several events over the last month, including Rock 'n' Roll races in Nashville, Madrid and Portland. In those cities, it appears that few people, if any, viewed the bombings as a reason to stay home.

"We saw great crowds in Nashville, even though we had four inches of rain on that day," says Josh Furlow, senior vice president of operations.

"Let's face it," says Amby Burfoot, editor-at-large of Runner's World magazine and winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon. "The bombs in Boston have focused more world attention on that race than it or any other marathon has ever known. And while it was a horrible terrorist act, people have ended up feeling good about the way that Boston citizens, Boston first responders and everyone came together to catch the perpetrators."

Tracy Sundlun, senior vice president for events at Competitor Group, says that a bump in Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series registrations since the attack is consistent with the reaction that "this is our sport; we're not about to have outside forces and people mess with our ability and rights to run when we want to run, where we want to run, and with whom we want to run."

Sundlun is no stranger to sports-related tragedies. He was in Munich in 1972 when 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were murdered and in Atlanta in 1996 when a bomb killed one and injured more than 100 in Centennial Olympic Park. And now Boston in 2013.

"But after each one of those incidents," says Sundlun, "like a major defeat on the road or on the track, you get back up, you shake yourself off, and you gradually get back to living and getting after it. A little wiser, but no less in love with what we do and no less enamored with what we're creating and no less energized by the people and the events around us."

Making the public more aware of new and existing security measures has also helped keep people coming to sporting events since the bombings.

"Security most of the time is something to be had and not seen," says Sundlun. "You don't want to tell people what you do. You don't want to let the bad guys know what's in the way. But one of the things that came out of this incident, it now became important that people knew -- that participants knew -- that there were many safety and security measures in place that perhaps weren't seen before."

At the St. Jude Country Music Marathon & 1/2 Marathon in Nashville, for example, officials removed newspaper dispensers, U.S. Postal Service mailboxes, and trashcans along the route. In addition, individual roadside mailboxes were blocked with police tape and orange traffic cones were turned on their sides.

Stadium managers are also taking steps to communicate security changes to their patrons and to leverage new ideas.

Steve Nazro, vice president of events for TD Garden, home of the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics, says the venue enhanced its security recently and made it known that patrons should allow extra time to get to their seats. The Garden already prohibits bags and reserves the right to conduct random searches, policies that were put into effect after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"We're in touch with all the public safety groups, whether it be Boston, whether it be the FBI or whatever," says Nazro. "We've talked to various experts in the field and we feel we're in good shape.

"Other than that, we're right in the middle of playoffs and people are certainly going to the games."

The Bruins just closed out their series against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they suited up for away games at Madison Square Garden ( MSG), another venue that's seen increased security since the Boston Marathon.

On the other side of the country, Levi's Stadium, future home of the San Francisco 49ers and recently named as host for Super Bowl L in 2016, is rising into the sky in Santa Clara, Calif. Dan Beerman, public communications manager for Santa Clara, says the city studied security ideas from across the country and incorporated the best ones into the stadium plan.

"It's all based on the layout of the building and where people can go and can't go and where they should be and shouldn't be," says Beerman. "We've looked at all of those avenues in a very detailed safety plan and we feel confident that this is going to make the stadium likely the safest one in the nation."

For most people, says Burfoot, the Boston Marathon is just another type of parade. "It's simply a place where we come out, lift our kids onto our shoulders, and say hey, look at that incredible Macy's float, or that funny-looking runner with a clown wig on. That's the violation that occurred in Boston and I think it's why all of us as a country wanted to come together and purge ourselves so quickly."

The poet Robert Frost wrote: "The best way out is always through." Since the Boston Marathon bombings, Americans seem to be pushing through their anger and pain and moving toward the other side. And sporting events, whose sole purpose is to provide joy to participants and fans, are helping them do it.

At the time of publication, Mollenauer held no positions in stocks mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Doug Mollenauer mixes writing, running and traveling with bouts of technology product marketing and consulting. An East Coast native, he now resides in Santa Cruz, Calif., where the surfboard by his front door is just for show. He holds an M.A. from The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. from Amherst College.

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