AP Sports Columnist
Women's marathon world record-holder Paula Radcliffe voiced the question on many lips: "There are some very sick people out there, who would do something like this?"
Whoever he, she or they are, the attacks on the Boston Marathon were a monstrous act. Targeting an activity -- running -- that is so quintessentially human and so bursting with life made the perpetrators, by definition, inhuman and anti-life.
The attackers' identities remain unknown. But that, plus the question "why?" and their motives, didn't immediately feel quite as important as "how could you?"
How could anyone seek to destroy the simple pleasure of running? What type of person wants death and horror to replace an activity so healthy, one that binds people and communities together, makes them feel good about themselves and which has been a human need and skill, very much part of us, since long before the legend developed of a messenger who ran from the plain of Marathon to Athens in ancient Greece?
The attackers, perhaps as children, must have run at some time in their lives, put one foot in front of another quickly, perhaps even felt those sensations of empowerment and well-being that running can bring. Yet here they murdered, maimed and horrified people as they were celebrating and exercising this wonderful ability. How sickening. No motives could possibly justify it.
Excuse the angry tone. Although, in truth, no apology is needed. We should all be angry. Because in targeting a sports event, the bombers targeted us all.
Sports are our universal language, a bond that can unite regardless of race or creed. We don't all pray to the same gods. Our countries and governments might be at odds. But that doesn't have to matter when you give us a track to run on or a pool to swim in. Even as enemies in war, soldiers have climbed out of their trenches to kick around a ball with each other. The inventor of the term "the human race" must have been a sports fan, someone who understood that racing -- against each other or ourselves -- is a human necessity. I think, therefore I run, as Descartes might have said.
Even watched from afar, the awful images, news updates and rising casualty counts from Boston felt close to home, as though this was the type of attack that could have struck anywhere. Anywhere people congregate to stretch their legs, to run, jog, jump, cycle, play ball, compete, applaud and enjoy the spectacle of people doing all those things -- in short, anywhere we meet to be ourselves. It felt like we all could have been its victims.
Anyone, anywhere, who exercises, who runs, who has run, who knows people who do or who simply likes watching sports -- which together is a sizeable chunk of humanity -- could imagine how proud the competitors and their families must have felt to be at the world's oldest annually contested marathon, a celebration of running since 1897.
It was easy to picture nervous but determined fathers and mothers getting a "you can do it!" kiss from their kids before setting off. As at many marathons, some competitors will have been running to raise money for causes and have been sponsored and encouraged by co-workers, friends and family. The race organizers' website says 35 charitable organizations were expected to fund-raise more than $11 million from Monday's marathon.
After the long and unsung hours of training to meet the race's demanding qualification standards, this was the runners' moment to shine, to run together with others instead of pounding roads alone. It wasn't hard to imagine how exhilarated they must have felt after 26.2 miles as they approached the bright yellow line on the tarmac with the word "FINISH" in big, blue capitals.
"You just put (in) all this hard work and it's such a positive day and, you know, to have something like this happen ..." said participant Erica Costanzo.
That the attacker or attackers targeted the finishing straight felt especially cynical, nihilistic and emotionally destructive. Limbs carrying people over the finishing line and then limbs being blown off. Applause replaced by screams. The sporting context made the atrocity only more horrific and unbearable.
"I don't know why anyone would do something like this, just take something so pleasant and turn it (into something) so horrible," said Amir Razavi, a witness. "What goes through people's minds? It's sickening."
Three dead, including an 8-year-old boy, more than 170 wounded and a horrid, unwanted reminder that sports events -- family-friendly, popular and relaxed -- can, by their very nature, make soft targets for terror. As the director of the Paris marathon pointed out in French sports newspaper L'Equipe, democracies simply can't station a police officer behind every spectator.