15 runners still hospitalized after Tel Aviv half marathon

Several in serious condition after racing in the sweltering heat; funeral for sergeant who collapsed and died set for Saturday evening

Runners take part in the Tel Aviv half marathon on Friday (photo credit: courtesy of Jonathan Fisch)
Runners take part in the Tel Aviv half marathon on Friday (photo credit: courtesy of Jonathan Fisch)

Fifteen runners were still being treated at Tel Aviv area hospitals Saturday afternoon after participating in the city’s half marathon Friday, which took place in sweltering heat and led to the death of one contender and the hospitalization of more than 20 others.

At Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov) in central Tel Aviv, 10 runners were still hospitalized. Two of them were in intensive care units, and one was being treated by the neurology department.

Five athletes were also hospitalized at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, located just outside Tel Aviv. One was reported to be in serious condition, and four were being treated for light injuries.

Meanwhile, all six half marathon participants hospitalized at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon were released.

Some 80 runners lightly to moderately injured during the race also received treatment from Magen David Adom on-site.

On Friday, the Tel Aviv municipality and the Health Ministry blamed each other for letting the city’s half marathon proceed in the morning.

Michael Michaelovitch (photo: Channel 2 screenshot)
Michael Michaelovitch (photo: Channel 2 screenshot)

The deceased runner, Michael Michaelovitch, was a 29-year-old IDF sergeant from the settlement of Tene, south of Hebron. An experienced runner who had trained thoroughly for the race, Michaelovitch collapsed along the route and was taken to the Sourasky Medical Center, where his death was confirmed.

Michaelovitch, who served in the IDF’s “Oketz” canine unit, was posthumously promoted to the rank of Master Sergeant. He leaves a wife and a three-month-old son.

Friends of the non-commissioned officer said he was in excellent shape and was used to running 20 kilometers (12 miles) a day. His family demanded the launch of an investigative committee.

Michaelovitch’s funeral was scheduled to take place in Beersheba at 11 p.m. Saturday night.

Tel Aviv City Hall expressed sorrow for the death and said an investigation would be launched, but noted that the municipality acted “according to the guidelines of the Ministry of Health and Ichilov Hospital [Sourasky Medical Center], which instructed us to cancel the full marathon and proceed with the half marathon as scheduled.”

Sourasky Medical Center Director Prof. Gabi Barbash said the decision to hold the race was taken “judiciously.”

“It’s easy to criticize in retrospect, but this was an informed decision by the municipality,” he said. Barbash said, though, that it was not his hospital’s decision to proceed with the race.

And the Health Ministry said it “warned the Tel Aviv municipality” about the dangers of proceeding with the event.

Experts pointed out that while the full marathon was postponed, the half marathon went ahead because it was perceived to be less challenging. However, they noted, the shorter race attracted generally less-experienced and fit runners, who were more vulnerable to the arduous conditions.

About 35,000 runners participated in the half marathon, held as a late-winter heat wave gripped the country. Some 150,000 spectators cheered them on along the race route.

Temperatures in Tel Aviv rose to a sweltering 34 degrees Celsius (93.2 Fahrenheit) throughout the day, with 35% humidity.

A woman pours water down her back during the Tel Aviv half marathon on Friday. (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
A woman pours water down her back during the Tel Aviv half marathon on Friday. (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

The Tel Aviv municipality announced Tuesday that the annual full marathon would be postponed by a week, because of the unseasonably high temperatures in the forecast.

The city said it contemplated postponing the entire event, including the half marathon, but decided such a move would be impossible because of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel next week.

In 2011, a 42-year-old runner died after suffering from heatstroke during the 42-kilometer run. Fifteen more runners were hospitalized with heatstroke and an additional 50 were treated for dehydration.

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