Speaking openly about the problems and turning points faced by the Belgrade Marathon, the constant growth trend in all respects, as well as plans to mark the 30th birthday, is the director of the Belgrade Marathon, Dejan Nikolić.
You accepted the call to organise this event in 1990, from its third edition, and this 22nd April will see the staging of the 30th Belgrade Marathon. You have announced significant changes. Could you tell us more?
– The most significant and most visible change will certainly be the new route of the marathon. We’ve been thinking about that for a long time, and that thinking led, on the one hand, to consideration for the need to avoid two laps of New Belgrade, which marathon runners were running, and, on the other hand, a desire for the route to include Ada Bridge, as Belgrade’s latest symbol and attraction.
This will contribute to better presenting both the marathon and Belgrade. Runners don’t like going down the same streets twice and, thanks to Ada Bridge, which was completed long after the existing route was devised, we can now reduce the two laps of New Belgrade’s boulevards to one lap. The measurements for the full and half marathon have been confirmed and the necessary certificates have been obtained. The marathon route is 42,195 metres long, while the half-marathon route is precisely 21,097.5 metres.
We have discovered that you’ve given up on the idea of the route leading to the finish line traversing the old part of Belgrade?
– Perhaps due to the need for the best possible functioning of public transport during the marathon, we accepted the recommendation to give up on that for now and for participants to run from the New Belgrade side across Ada Bridge to the other side of the Sava, and then to use the existing traffic junction slip roads to return to the New Belgrade side and, as has been the case to date, arrive in the old part of Belgrade by crossing Branko’s Bridge.
We haven’t changed the areas of the start and finish lines – in front of the National Assembly and on Terazije Square – because few cities have their start and finish lines in the very heart of the city centre. This was also suggested by Fred Lebow, founder of the New York City Marathon and the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS), who joined us in setting the route, in 1990, which lasted from the third to the 29th Belgrade Marathon.
The new route means an extra uphill section (Ada Bridge) in what is already a hilly course. To what extent is the difference in elevation between the two banks of the Sava a handicap for the Belgrade Marathon?
– The Belgrade Marathon must be Belgrade and not just New Belgrade. However, the difference in elevation that must be overcome by its participants is not the reason why the Belgrade Marathon’s record times (2:10.54 for men and 2:29.44 for women) are not competitive with the world’s fastest marathons. The altitude of New Belgrade is 74 metres above sea-level, while the finish line on Terazije Square is at 117 metres, so the difference in elevation is 43 metres. That’s a lot greater than the variations in elevation when it comes to London, Berlin, Chicago and Rotterdam, but a lot less than is the case with many other marathons.
The same kind of difference in elevation is overcome by participants in the New York City Marathon at the very start, with the rise along the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge, not to mention the marathon in hilly San Francisco… The quality of record times also depends on weather conditions: in the previous two years, the Belgrade Marathon has been held under drastically different conditions, the first during cold weather and heavy rain, then at an extremely high temperature of 28 degrees. If on 22nd April for the 30th Belgrade Marathon we have an average between these two temperatures, we will be satisfied.
Under the auspices of the project “Legends back in Belgrade”, the guests of the jubilee 30th Belgrade Marathon will be the greatest legends of athletics: Bob Beamon, Carl Lewis, Lasse Virén, Sergey Bubka, Merlene Ottey, Rosa Mota, Michael Paul, Kevin Young, Galina Chistyakov and Javier Sotomayor
Until recently, Belgrade didn’t have the other element that defines “major” marathons, and that is mass participation. Last year you had a record 6,000 participants, and for this year you plan new increases. How did you arrive at that number?
– A month before the 30th marathon, we had more than 5,500 registered runners from 65 countries. Thus, the record for the number of countries where our runners come from has been broken, and we have no doubt that the number of participants will be close to the projected aim of 8,000 participants, which is an increase of about 30 per cent compared to last year. This is an encouraging statistic, and in recent years we have steadily increased growth rates – 15 per cent, 18, then 25 and 33 per cent in the last two years.
We will have around the same amount again this year if we also count the 400 or so participants in the half-marathon event. We have worked on this all these years and we will continue to work, primarily on raising the quality of the event, more intensively promoting the marathon abroad, in cooperation with the tourist organisations of Belgrade and Serbia, as well as with tour operators from abroad that specialise in catering for the running population.
Last year we presented at the Belgrade Marathon at marathon fairs in Chicago, New York, Ljubljana and Athens. This year we will renew these visits, while we will probably include in the itinerary a marathon in China, a country that has between 30 and 35 million runners who increasingly travel to other marathons around the world.
In four years, the Prague Marathon succeeded in increasing the number of participants from China from a few dozen to more than a thousand, which is an important figure in a race that has a total of 12,000 participants, particularly given that they were accompanied in Prague by around 2,000 followers. We are favoured by the fact that Serbia is the only European country which has a visa-free regime with China, and that direct flights between Belgrade and Beijing will be established as of next year…
Back in 1990, you brought Bob Beamon to Belgrade, who was then the long jump world record holder, as the first promoter of the Belgrade Marathon. Year after year, the Belgrade Marathon took turns in welcoming greats of world athletics who contributed to the promotion of Belgrade and the Belgrade Marathon, while this year you have a new and unusual concept. How did you come up with the “Legends Back in Belgrade” project?
– We devised that together with the leaders of Belgrade. We wanted to offer Belgraders and all participants something unusual, worthy of the anniversary. We have been working on that for a long time. We first made a list of two, but when the first positive responses began to arrive we realised that we can make an even longer list with great certainty that they will come to Belgrade.
That is also the real thing: to gather in Belgrade people who have extended the boundaries of sport – not just by setting world records, many of which still stand today, but by achieving unprecedented sporting feats. They are Bob Beamon, Carl Lewis, Lasse Virén, Sergey Bubka, Merlene Ottey, Rosa Mota, Michael Paul, Kevin Young, Galina Chistyakov and Javier Sotomayor. The last four still world record holders. Virén is the only 10,000m runner to have set a world record at the Olympic Games and is the only athlete to have set the world record during a race in which he fell on the course…
Have they all confirmed their arrival?
– They all accepted the invitation and are all currently coordinating their obligations, because many of them are members of international athletic and sporting organisations, such as Sergey Bubka, while others are engaged in humanitarian work, and I must say that they gladly accepted calls to participate in some of our charitable programmes. We invited them to come with a loved one and have set up an interesting programme for their stay, including visits to Belgrade’s cultural and historic sights, a day trip outside of Belgrade, holding public lessons in athletics for children that adults will also be able to attend, and everything will be recorded for a documentary that will contribute to better and further promotion of our marathon, our city and our country.
Company Belgrade Marathon Ltd. Is the organiser of the event of the same name, but it is not the only one. Who are all of your partners?
– The patron of the Belgrade Marathon is the Belgrade City Assembly, and it is our most important natural partner – given that we use Belgrade’s squares, boulevards and streets, and that it would be impossible to stage such an event successfully without all of the city’s secretariat, businesses and services. We have their full support, while Mayor Siniša Mali also provides us with racing support. He will be the first mayor to run the half-marathon. Important roles are also played by numerous volunteers, but also our business partners and sponsors.
I will mention that there probably wouldn’t even be a Belgrade Marathon today if during 1994, in the midst of sanctions against our country and our sport, and with inflation galloping, company Soko Štark and its director, Mr Vojislav Đorđević, hadn’t agreed a ten-year sponsorship contract with us, which was as rare in Serbia then as it is now. Also playing an important role in that period was JAT, while today we rely on the company ‘Idea’, which contacted us three years ago to explain that it wanted to be our sponsor, and now we’ve started the second three-year contract; Uniqa, which ensures all participants, prize money and bonuses for domestic and foreign record breakers; Coca-Cola, as the title sponsor of the Fun Run; ASICS; MediGroup, which take care of the health of all participants; Air Serbia, which offers a special marathon tariff for runners from abroad, then the Hemofarm Foundation, Carlsberg Erdinger, technology partner Enjoy.ing, Nectar – Frutabel, and new partners Intersport and Zlatiborac…
Humanitarian programmes unimaginable without CorD magazine
Humanitarian programmes represent a significant segment of the Belgrade Marathon.
– They cannot be imagined without CorD magazine, with which we have collaborated for eleven years, making it our longest standing partner in this area, which is very important for us. CorD promotes the idea of giving and donating through the activation of a large number of participants, primarily representatives of the diplomatic corps and business. This is an excellent programme and I’m glad our cooperation continues – says the director of the Belgrade Marathon.