New York : Idrissa Kargbo threw his arms in the air to try to describe his excitement at learning of his entry into the New York City Marathon.
The runner from Sierra Leone, who boarded a plane for the first time to come to the race, is the sort of smiling face that used to define big-city marathons. On Monday, his story was only a brief delay to the questions about natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
The NYC Marathon is Sunday, an event usually associated with cheering fans lining streets and giddy runners waving to the cameras. Then came last year's race week.
The initial announcement that the marathon would go on after Superstorm Sandy prompted outrage from many New Yorkers at the prospect of diverting resources to a sporting event amid so much destruction. The late decision to cancel the race occurred after many out-of-town entrants had already flown in.
Then came April's Boston Marathon.
Two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260.
This NYC Marathon will look different in some ways: more barricades, bag screenings, sniffer dogs. Runners who returned after signing up for last year will wear special orange wristbands. The whole field will sport yellow and blue ribbons for the Boston victims.
For race organizer New York Road Runners, the wish is for most everything else to recapture the innocence of marathons past.
“We hope the day can be one that honors, remembers those hurt and still suffering, and we can provide for the city and for Boston and for people everywhere a back-to-basics celebrating the triumph of the human spirit,” NYRR President Mary Wittenberg said Monday.
There are things that can be controlled, and those that can't. The marathon's security budget doubled to about $1 million after the Boston attacks. Last week, 600 staffers and volunteer leaders were trained by police in areas such as how to deal with suspicious packages.
“There are no credible threats against the marathon,” said Peter Ciaccia, the race's technical director.
Until Sunday morning, it's impossible to know whether fans will jam the sidewalks again. Or whether they will fret about their safety after Boston. Or still bristle at last year's events in New York, when the city and marathon leaders were slow to come around to the consensus that holding the race was unseemly.
Once it was canceled, NYRR donated about $1.5 million worth of supplies to storm victims. Wittenberg and many runners converged on Staten Island to help on what would have been race day.
“That's where it was painful—when you saw the devastation and just realized what a disconnect there was, that stays with us, stays with me for a long time,” Wittenberg said.
NYRR had a deficit of about $4 million in 2012 because of the cancellation. Insurance didn't cover all the costs because NYRR decided to offer the option of a refund to runners.
None of Monday's talk about safety and finances could erase the grin from Kargbo's face. His West African country has none of the distance running tradition of the East African nations. Yet he has run a marathon in just over 2½ hours.
NYRR heard his story and offered him a spot in the field, and his travel expenses were paid through crowd-sourcing. By the end of the day Sunday, maybe he will be the face of the marathon, the way it used to be.