Standing in the grandstands at the W. 67th Street entrance to Central Park on Friday night, Alberto Juta, 51, waited eagerly for his country’s delegation to be announced. When Italian folk music began to blare, he dashed down the stairs to cheer and film about 40 people marching, all proudly bearing the Italian flag.
On Sunday, those marchers and Juta will be among the 51,000 people expected to run in this year’s New York City Marathon. They were celebrated Friday during the event’s opening ceremony, which featured a “Parade of Nations” with runners from some 125 countries and a performance by the cast of the Broadway hit STOMP.
The ceremony was “a way to kick off the weekend and have some fun,” said Michael Capiraso, president and CEO of the New York Road Runners, which organizes the marathon.
The jubilant celebration took place just three days after a terror attack in lower Manhattan. Sayfullo Saipov, who was arraigned in Manhattan federal court late Wednesday, was charged with killing eight people and injuring at least a dozen.
New York Road Runners postponed two media events scheduled for Wednesday out of respect for the victims and their families.
Peter Ciaccia, New York Road Runner’s president of events and the marathon’s race director, acknowledged them at the kickoff of the opening ceremony. “Our thoughts are with all those affected by the tragedy down in lower Manhattan,” Ciaccia said. “The spirit of inclusiveness, that’s what this city is about, and that’s what this weekend is about.”
In light of Tuesday’s attack, the New York Police Department announced that it plans to step up security for the race by adding more sand trucks as blocker vehicles and also increasing the number of heavy-weapons teams, canines, counterterrorism officers and regular beat police – both in uniform and in plainclothes.
“It will be the most ever deployed at this event,” NYPD Chief of Department Carlos Gomez said in a statement. “It’s going to be a very safe event.”
In addition to the 51,000 runners, New York Road Runners expects the race to have 2.5 million spectators.
Like Juta, many of them traveled from around the world to participate or watch. Bharti Sudra’s daughter, Monica Sudra, was chosen to be the flag-bearer for Great Britain. Sudra, 63, her husband and Monica Sudra’s fiancé traveled to New York from London to see her compete.
Sudra said neither she nor her daughter was worried about the proximity to the attack. “No worries,” Sudra said. “She’ll make it, she’ll do it.”
Marcela Rivero, 27, was also not concerned. She exuded unbridled joy as she carried the Bolivian flag for her delegation. She was born in Bolivia and moved to New York last year for school. The attack gave her pause, but the race was too important to deter her.
“You see big crowds, you think that it’s always a target,” Rivero said. “But you cannot live with fear.”
Juta also said he wasn’t worried. “I’m very excited,” he said.
Young runners are also excited. The opening ceremony singled out the five students who will serve as grand marshals for this year’s marathon. The five – one from each borough – are part of Rising New York Road Runners, a program that provides city kids with resources and opportunities to start running. Marathon runners must be 18 or older, so the grand marshals will get to ride in the lead car instead of running.
Jenny Simpson, an Olympic medalist who has been working with the youth runners for the last few months, said that she wanted to be a role model for the kids. “Community is so important to the running life,” she said. “Very few of us train alone, run alone, or race alone.”