Recriminations fly over fatality at Tel Aviv half marathon

Recriminations fly over fatality at Tel Aviv half marathon

After runner dies and 20 are hospitalized, Health Ministry and municipality blame each other for letting race go ahead in sweltering heat

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)

Tel Aviv municipality and the Health Ministry blamed each other Friday for letting the city’s half marathon proceed in the morning, despite sweltering heat which led to one runner’s death and the hospitalization of more than 20 others.

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 city’s 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 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.

As of Friday night, two other participants were in serious condition in Tel Aviv hospitals, and 13 others were also still receiving hospital treatment.

Some 80 runners were lightly to moderately injured, and received treatment from Magen David Adom on-site.

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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