OP Jaisha row: Indian officials need to recognise the risks associated with marathons

While the odds of getting a life threatening issue during or after a marathon are less, they cannot be completely ignored.

Written by Karan Prashant Saxena | Updated: August 26, 2016 3:26:37 pm
OP Jaisha, OP Jaisha marathon, Marathon, Marathon olympics, marathons health, marathon deaths, marathon olympics, olympics, olympics news, sports, sports news, sports blogs OP Jaisha who hit out at the national athletics federation on Monday for not providing her refreshments during the Rio Olympics marathon. She fainted at the finish line. (Source: PTI)

Marathoner OP Jaisha fainted after her event at the Olympics. The result was disappointing from India’s point of view as Jaisha finished 89th in the race. But little did the sports officials of the country know that they would face greater embarrassment after Jaisha’s return.

The marathoner has alleged that Indian sports officials were missing from their desks that were set up during the race at every few kilometers to offer refreshments and water during the course of the 42-km long race. On Monday, after her return from Rio, a distraught Jaisha said, “I could have died there.”

READ: Only 1 of 27 Indian sports associations has athlete as president

The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has refuted Jaisha’s claims and are asserting that the runner is making allegations to cover her “poor performance” at Rio Olympics 2016. The Sports ministry has launched an investigation into the allegations and will decide who is responsible for the mess.

One thing which Jaisha stressed on was the fact that not many people understand the seriousness of a marathon race. She said, “Maybe nobody realises the seriousness of a marathon, the fact that we have to run 42 km.”

WATCH VIDEO: Coach, IAAF Dismiss OP Jaisha Claims


The allegations made by the 33-year old Indian runner raises the question: How dangerous is a marathon? Can one actually die in the middle of a race, or afterwards, if not given proper attention?

READ: Sports Ministry sets up committee to probe OP Jaisha’s case

On July 31, at a rain affected marathon in Goa, a 23-year old German national Christina Kamser died while running in the 10 km race. Kamser felt out of breath as soon as she started the race and then collapsed on the ground. According to reports, she was declared ‘dead’ as soon as she reached the hospital.

Kamser’s death is not the only marathon death that made headlines this year. In the month of April, a 31-year old British Army Captain, who served in Afghanistan, suffered a cardiac arrest and died during the 42 km London Marathon. The same marathon saw the much reported death of 42-year old Robert Barry at the finish line, two years ago.

The debate regarding the dangers associated with the marathons has been ingrained in the history of the format of the sport.

Historically, the sport got its name from a Greek legend, when Pheidippides ran from the city of Marathon to Athens to inform about Athenian army’s victory over Persian Army. According to the legend, Pheidippides arrived at the port of Athens and exclaimed “Rejoice, we conquer”, then collapsed on the ground and died.

The truth lies in the history. Marathon is a dangerous sport. According to an article published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, published in 2012, “Of 3,718,336 total marathon participants over the 10-year study period, we identified 28 people (6 women and 22 men) who died during the marathon race and up to 24 hours after finishing.”

The numbers even though do not seem to be so high, but, certainly, they trigger the idea that without proper system to keep a tab on a runner’s health during and after a marathon, the consequences can potentially turn nasty.
According to an article published on a US news website, Brietbart News Network, “Most people who run marathons hobble away unscathed. But the heat, lack of preparedness, and pre-existing conditions claim a few lives each year.”

This is precisely what O P Jaisha is complaining about. The runner said that they had to run the marathon in scorching heat. While runner from every other nation had a water station at every 2 km, the Indian stands were empty, according to Jaisha.

If her allegations are found to be true, then this is a remarkable case study of sheer negligence and utter irresponsibility on the part of sports officials. The marathon is not a sport that should be taken lightly. The runners literally put their lives at risk to compete in the grueling 42-km race.

In a report published by New England Journal of Medicine, in 2012, the major reason that can lead to the death of a runner during and after a race is a sudden cardiac arrest. According to the report, there is one cardiac arrest for every 184,000 participants. Again, the number though appears not to be very huge, it would be foolish to not consider them when preparing an athlete to run in the world’s biggest sporting event.

The situation turned really bad for Jaisha after the race as she fainted and was rushed to the hospital. One could only wonder who would be blamed if something serious would have happened. Sports Minister Vijay Goel has washed his hands away from the incident saying that AFI is responsible for it. The AFI has blamed the athlete for making “baseless allegations” and that IOA is responsible for making these arrangements.

The sports officials in the country should take some time out from the blame game and focus on the larger picture here. It is high time now and people of the country, the officials, and the athletes, understand and take cognisance of the risks associated with marathons. Only with thorough research and understanding, can the administration make proper arrangements for the athletes participating in the sport format. The alternative can prove to be nasty in the future competitions.

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