Archive | April, 2022

Vienna City Marathon (VCM) 2022 – tidbits

24 Apr

As I look over my notes, scribbled while watching the marathon on TV, I’m not quite sure to begin. Perhaps at the beginning. ­čśë I missed it, sadly, but the event was opened with speech from Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen, who emphasized the themes of this year’s marathon: joy, togetherness, and peace. (He was also reponsible for the starting signal, which worked, thank goodness, even though the bell fell off the can. [Sorry if that is not the correct terminology. I hope you can picture it nonetheless.]) The themes were highlighted by some of ORF footage, including an enormous “Stop War” banner on Stephansdom and a “Stand with Ukraine” banner on the Burgtheater, where the race ends.

As always, the commentary focused mainly on the first man, the first woman, the first Austrian man or, in this case, men, and the first Austrian woman. And as usual there was a lot to say what with giving running histories and personal interest stories — that the winner of the men’s race, Cosmas Matolo Muteti, placed 5th in Berlin in September 2021, that Vibian Chepkirui, winner of the women’s race, was defending her title, that one of the top Austrian men, Timon Theuer, has had a run of bad luck, which continued in this race as he fell and injured his hip at eight-kilometer mark and gave up finally because of the pain at about the 32-kilometer mark, that his pacemaker had planned to bow out at about the 30-kilometer mark but felt great so just kept going and crossed the finish line in 19th place. In fact, Muteti also commented that he could feel it was a really good day for him and so sped up to pass the leader, Oqbe Kibrom of Eritrea, who ended up coming in third, and so managed to cross the finish line first and with great panache.

As usual, I went down to watch the top runners go by at the stretch near me and was sad to realize I had missed the top men runners. (Boy, they must have been fast this year!) I made it just in time to see the leading Austrian man, Lemawork Ketema, go by and then Chepkirui, who was at that point still clearly in the lead of the women’s race. I waited about 15 minutes to see if the first Austrian woman would go by, but there was no sign of anyone. It turned out there was no top runner and, in fact, there was some question at the end as to who the fastest Austrian woman was. It turned out to be Anna Holzmann with a net time of 3:03:59, about a minute and a half faster than Carola Bendl-Tschiedl, the first Austrian woman to actually cross the finish line. (The start, as you can imagine with over 30,000 runners, is staggered.)

The men’s race was close at the end and exciting. The women’s race had me shouting at the TV it was so thrilling. Chepkirui was in the lead but Ruth Chebitok was catching up so fast and running so well that it really wasn’t clear if Chepkirui would find enough left inside herself to stay in the lead. She did, however, and, perhaps because of the pressure from Chebitok, broke the course record (Nancy Kiprop’s record) with a time of 2:20:59. Chebitok came in four seconds behind her. It galled me that although there were interviews with three of the men (the winner, the first Austrian, and the pacemaker who completed the race) there were none with the women, in spite of that spectacular run. Of course, there could be other reasons than unconscious bias for that omission — Chepkirui was clearly exhausted at the end or perhaps she doesn’t speak English and they didn’t want to spring for an interpreter — and then again it could be unconscious bias. ORF take note!

In any case, it was a Kenyan day. Out of the six top runners, the three men and the three women, five were Kenyan. And the Kenyan fan base went wild (see photo of my TV). I also thought it was lovely that in the photo session after the award ceremony Muteti, who had done his victory lap wrapped in a Kenyan flag, shared that flag with Chepkirui (other photo, from the ORF website).

For more info:

And I have put the 2023 VCM into my calendar already — April 23rd!


Lillehammer 1994

2 Apr

Today’s Kurier has an interview with Oksana Baiul, the 1994 Ukrainian gold medalist in women’s figure-skating. (She beat Nancy Kerrigan in the final seconds of her routine, as I remember it, by adding a rotation to a jump.)

Just seeing her name and the photo of her with her pink costume and frizzy 1980s hairstyle reminded me of how, in those days, no one except Ukrainians knew the Ukrainian anthem. The way I remember it, the award ceremony was delayed because they were searching backstage for the music so the anthem could be played. In the interview, Baiul says it was because the organizers couldn’t find a Ukrainian flag.

We are now all familiar with the anthem and the flag. I wish it for different reasons.

April 1st – a significant date for both the last emperor and the last empress of Austria

1 Apr

I always check the ORF headlines on my phone at breakfast. This morning I saw that today is the 100th anniversary of the death of Karl I of Austria — the Habsburg who had the thankless task of assuming the throne after the almost 68-year reign of Franz Josef I. He was ill-prepared, not really having expected to ascend to the throne (Crown Prince Rudolf shot himself, Franz Ferdinand made a morganatic marriage and was, of course, later assassinated in Sarajevo, and Karl’s father died young) and took on the role in the middle of a war he had mixed feelings about. One could say that at least he only had to do the job for two years, from 1916 to 1918 when Austria became a republic, but I suspect he didn’t see it that way.

Reading this reminded me that I was a part of the crowd at Stephansplatz that gathered to see Empress Zita’s funeral procession. What I had forgotten was that this was on 1 April 1989. What I still remember is that I got a very good place to stand because there was an incredible downpour just as I was walking to Stephansplatz, which, I suspect, sent the people who were already gathered there scurrying for cover. I sheltered in the doorway of a shop until the worst was over and then made my way to the square and took up a spot near the doors to St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the front row.

What particularly overwhelmed me as the procession went by was the weight of history summed up in this last imperial funeral in Austria. The funeral coach had already become a museum piece and I had seen it in the Wagenburg (Imperial Carriage Museum) at Sch├Ânbrunn. The enormous black horses with their stiff black plumes were like something out of Victorian England, as were the uniforms worn by the staff members of the City of Vienna undertakers. The crowd stretched away from Stephansplatz up K├Ąrntner Stra├če and off along the Graben, where people hoped to catch a glimpse of the procession as Zita was conveyed from the Cathedral to the Kapuzinergruft, where the Habsburgs are interred in their family vault. The Habsburgs are laid out chronologically and so it happens that Zita’s coffin stands on a pedestal next to that of Franz Josef I. Because of history and human frailty, her husband’s grave is still (and probably now will remain) at Funchal in Madeira, although in the manner of the Habsburgs his heart lies elsewhere (in Switzerland).

What a privilege it was to be able to see that bit of history. Something I will never forget.

If you would like more information, here are two pages from the ORF website, with videos.

About Karl I:

On Zita’s funeral: