Kopacs at NY Marathon finish line
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Lynne in NYC

Kopac's Corner

Runners at the Gates

by Bob Kopac

"I'm just mad about Saffron, Saffron's mad about me." Mellow Yellow by Donovan

There had to be very good reasons for Lynne and me to wake up at 3:30 AM on a Sunday. We were going to catch a train from Poughkeepsie to Manhattan for the New York Road Runners Club Al Gordon 15K foot race, even though on the same day Pat DeHaven was directing the Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club 5-Mile Winter Run which was free for MHRRC members. Lynne's reason was to run her 4th of 9 qualifiers for the 2006 NYC Marathon. My reason was cursus gratia artis -- "Running for the sake of art". I was determined to photograph the runners in Central Park as they ran past Christo's "The Gates" art project.

From 02/12/05 through 02/27/05, the artist Christo and his spouse Jean-Claude set up their latest outdoor art project in Central Park. Saffron-colored fabric panels, suspended from 7,500 metal gates, formed a 23 mile path. According to the http://www.nyc.gov/html/thegates/html/about.html web site, "The Gates will create a visual golden river appearing and disappearing through the bare branches of the trees, highlighting the shapes of the footpaths. The luminous moving fabric will underline the organic and serpentine design of the walkways, while the rectangular poles will be a reminder of the grid pattern of the City blocks around the park."

There were plenty of gates near the start of the race on Central Park's East Drive at 101st Street, although the runners may have been too cold to notice, for the temperature was at the freezing point. In addition, a brisk wind made it very uncomfortable for the runners, but great for photographs, as the saffron panels billowed in the freezing wind.

While the shivering runners assembled at the starting line, I marveled at the elite runners who wore shorts and singlets in the bitter cold. I marveled more that 103-year-old Al Gordon was present at the start of the race. Also in attendance was Frank Shorter, the gold medal winner at the 1972 Munich Olympics, who ran the 15K.

A week before the event, I sent an e-mail to the NYRRC webmaster asking if there were any places on the course where I could photograph the runners and the gates together. The webmaster replied, "The Gates Project is spread out all over Central Park, so the race courses for both the NYRRC Al Gordon 15K and the (02/26/05) NYRRC Snowflake 4-Mile pass by the gates at numerous occasions during the course of the race. In fact, there are probably few places along the course in which the gates would be not visible."

The webmaster was correct. The gates were EVERYWHERE. Lynne said the best place on the course was at the Bethesda Terrace. As she ran towards the terrace, the morning sun backlit the multiple saffron panels, turning them into a fiery orange-gold stream. The glowing panels reminded her of the multiple orange torii (Japanese gates) at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Japan. (See the http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3915.html web site.)

During the race, several runners commented about having to dodge all the tourists who were out viewing the Gates Project. Normally Central Park is much less crowded on a Sunday morning. However, it appears more runners also were interested in being tourists and seeing the gates, for the race had 2581 entrants in 2005, versus 2120 participants in 2004. The gates apparently did not distract race winner Rob Zand, for he finished the 15K in 50:08, a 5:23 per mile pace.

After the race, Lynne and I wandered through Central Park admiring the gates, becoming one of the hordes of tourists out on a sun-drenched Sunday. Running a race and admiring ephemeral art: what a fantastic way to enjoy a Sunday in the park with Christo!