Above is a screen shot of prolific Japanese runner Yuki Kawauchi making a break from the lead pack in the 2014 NYC Marathon, at about 18K, just past 11 miles. This is about 1:21 into EuroSport's full coverage of the race. The video leaves to cover the women's leaders and returns at 1:22:35 to show what appears to be a NYPD motorcycle cop forcing Kawauchi into the curb, in the next four screen shots, below. Since the police were tasked with escorting the leader, the motorcyclist knew Kawauchi was there, as his sideways glance confirms. The interference seems intentional.
The incident took two seconds according to this video. I was watching the race in the media tent, splitting my retinas between four massive screens, and I didn't see this. In fact, to my knowledge, none of the hundred or so journalists in the tent saw it either. If they did, they didn't think it was worth mentioning. Race organizers seemed similarly unaware, probably because Kawauchi did not file a protest. Immediately after this apparent interference, Kawauchi fell back into the lead pack and eventually faded to his slowest marathon finish of the year, 2:16:41.
I learned about it nearly a month later when the blog Japan Running News posted these images. I contacted Brett Larner, editor of JRN who had accompanied Kawauchi to NYC, to find out if he'd actually witnessed the incident. He said he had not, but that others kept mentioning it to him so he finally dredged it up on the EuroSport film, apparently the only media outlet that captured it. Though Larner and Kawauchi traveled together to several races after NYC, Kawauchi never mentioned the very intimate NYPD escort. Curious, Larner eventually asked him about it, and Kawauchi admitted the motorcycle did contact him, but typically, he took responsibility for his own actions, and reactions, regardless of egregious interference by the man in blue.
Questions remain. Why would a cop intentionally clip a runner? Ok wait, let me rephrase—why would a cop intentionally clip a runner on live TV in front of sidewalks of spectators and a chase pack of competitors? Kawauchi was an invited, elite athlete though, with a PB four minutes slower than some of the others, he was not favored to win. This push to the lead was an attempt by Kawauchi to pick up the pace so that the race would not come down to a sprint over the final miles, a scenario that favored the speedsters, like Kipsang, of the group. Police escorts have gotten in the way before, famously in the 1982 battle between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley in the final meters of the Boston Marathon, but it was usually a clueless accident.
Why was the incident either not recorded by a press truck full of photographers, or disregarded by same? Since Kawauchi was the break-away leader at the time, it's hard to believe his being forced into the curb by New York's finest, intentional or not, would go unnoticed by the people whose job it was to capture every nuance of the changing lead.
Even after JRN posted these screen shots, the silence from the running community has been deafening, despite a proven willingness to discuss incidents, documented and hypothetical, at great length. Is the leader of the NYC Marathon being run off the road by a police escort irrelevant? Or is it only irrelevant because he did not complain?
Though Kawauchi has moved on and has no interest in pursuing the matter, it would be seemly if the officer involved felt a similar sense of personal responsibility, enough to offer up an Oops, my bad and a promise to review NYPD's safe escort guidelines.
Photo credit: Japan Running News