Stories abound as 40,000-plus runners will make their way through the five boroughs.
When the ING New York City Marathon rolls through the five boroughs on Sunday morning, it will be an athletic comeback of epic proportions — last year, for the first time in its 44-year history, the race was cancelled in the wake of the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy. It will also celebrate a broadcast comeback of sorts as well. For the first time in 20 years, the iconic event will be seen by running fans across the country when ESPN produces a three-and-a-half hour national broadcast of the race. SportsCenter anchors John Anderson and Hannah Storm, both runners and former high jumpers, will be the lead talent on the show, which will be on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes+ from 9 AM to 12:30 PM EST, as well as online on WatchESPN.
While the event will no doubt make significant note of last year’s cancellation, as well as the finish line bombings at this year’s Boston Marathon, Anderson feels that race up front is still the compelling and driving story of the broadcast.
“Without drowning in morose, I’m sure we’ll mention those two events,” he said. “But what I’m looking forward to most is a fantastic race. The marathon is a hybrid event, with high level competition at the top and camaraderie among the 40,000 runners behind. I think the actual competition will be spectacular. Once viewers get there to watch the running itself, I think it will be compelling enough to hold them for two-plus hours.”
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Viewers can expect to be treated to the best broadcast technology that’s ever been employed for a marathon. For the first time, the race will be shown in high definition. “I’m really looking forward to seeing those weekend warriors sweating in high def,” joked Jeremy Schaap, who will be part of the broadcast team.
Steve Mayer, who will produce the show, ticked off numerous improvements that should make for a better viewing experience.
“Producing marathons is extremely unique,” he said “To do 26.2 miles of coverage we’re using 43 cameras, three helicopters, six motorcycles – it’s an immense production.
“The HD picture will make this stand out, you’ll see an immense difference in the quality,” he continued. “And after the elites finish, we’ll continue with a ‘ticker’ across the bottom of the screen showing runners’ names and times as they finish. The improvements are subtle, but we think it will make a big difference when integrated into the broadcast.”
One technique that Mayer plans to employ liberally is the split screen, so the network will be able to show both the men’s and women’s races, or not have to cut away completely when a feature segment is shown. “You’ll see a lot of split screen, so much you’ll forget about it,” Mayer said. “It will very much depend on where the men’s race is and how competitive it is at that moment.”
Mayer and Anderson both admitted that profile features will need to be inserted into the broadcast to break up the relative monotony of a group of runners clipping along at sub-five minute pace.
“They all have great stories,” said Anderson. “Whether it’s their training situation, their links to the U.S., there are stories to tell.”
“We may be more willing to tell some of these incredible stories of people affected by Sandy and Boston,” Mayer continued. “There’s a woman from Staten Island who lost everything in the storm. Training for this year’s race has gotten her mind off the problems she faces every day.
“And there’s a doctor from Boston who finished the marathon in April, then went right to the hospital to begin treating victims of the bombings. We’re going to integrate their stories, as well as profiles on the elites, into the mix.”
But ultimately, the main story is the race up front, and everyone involved seems to realize the importance of getting that across to the viewers.
“I think it helps, to know the sport,” said Anderson. “I’ve gotten Track & Field News for 30-some years. If someone is passionate about the subject they’re covering, it comes through.”
“If we do our job and get a solid race behind it people will watch,” said Storm.