Mark Adams

Social media and the referendum: made for sharing


Snap Inc., the Venice, California-based parent company of Snapchat, went public Thursday. It’s now worth $34 billion.

As the Washington Post pointed out, that’s more than Macy’s and American Airlines. The New York Times noted that $34 billion is more than “the old-line media company CBS,” and about three times the value of the social-media presence that is Twitter.

What does this have to do with the Olympics?


Snapchat, for the unfamiliar, is the mobile app that allows you to send pictures and videos that, after a few seconds, self-destruct. Once you learn the basics, you can add filters, everything from rabbit ears to dog noses to whatever. You can also add tags that show where in the world you are.

Grown-ups go — what’s the big deal? Teens go — awesome, mom and dad can’t figure it out.

Snapchat is actually way more. There’s another part to the app, and its NFL content during the recently concluded season drew 42 million unique viewers. Translation: a lot of people. Snapchat literally has changed the way people shoot pictures — as Ad Age pointed out, brands and publishers wanted to reach that sort of massive audience, which in turn meant shooting vertically instead of horizontally for video on mobile phones.

When it comes to Snapchat and social media, the signals of change are all around us. But most grown-ups within the Olympic scene — the International Olympic Committee in particular — have proven way too slow on the pickup.

The ongoing campaign for the 2024 Summer Games, down now to just two candidates, Paris and Los Angeles (see above, Venice, California), is in every way the very first real social-media bid race.

Snap is now worth crazy money. Twitter is the essential news feed. There are roughly 7 billion people on Planet Earth, and Facebook had 1.86 billion monthly active users as of the fourth quarter of 2016. Let’s not forget the pretty pictures on Instagram, the recipes on Pinterest and on and on.

What does this mean?

For a global enterprise such as the Olympics, there assuredly are positives to the way social media can crush time and space. But as the 2024 bid campaign has made abundantly plain, there are negatives, too, with which the Olympic movement must reckon.

Instead of doing so, it is instead facing grave risk.

And its most senior officials barely comprehend what is it at issue.

This is not hyperbole.

Paris is very fond of its bid slogan: “Made for Sharing.” It is super-clear that bid and government officials think it’s super-positive. But history shows that construction and infrastructure costs inevitably skyrocket. What happens when concern over such costs reaches a trigger point? Cue — on social media — outrage, grievance, agitation. What if “Made for Sharing” flips into a negative, and quickly?

Never have the Games been awarded in an era when social media has shown how easy it can be to amplify such grievance and conflict.

See two of the other cities that started this 2024 race: Budapest and Hamburg, Germany.

Both are now out because of social media and, in Hamburg’s case, an attendant referendum, in the case of Budapest, the threat of one.

The warning signs are all blinking red for Paris, too.

To be blunt: the IOC does not fully appreciate this.

Nor does it understand the essentials: how itself to use the power and reach of social media and, on the other hand, how to help those within its orbit blunt or confront social media when employed as an attack on the Olympic movement.

You see this in so many ways.

The IOC’s most important communications outreach remains stuck in 1982 if not before: a beautifully designed and elegantly produced quarterly coffee table-style magazine called Olympic Review.

The IOC says it wants to reach the kids. The kids are glued to their phones. And the IOC puts out a magazine that arrives by snail mail every three months, and then only to a selected mailing list.

Wait, counters the IOC: we have 4.9 million Twitter followers.

That’s not anywhere near top 100 in the world.

The Barcelona soccer team has 20 million. Real Madrid, 22.3 million. LeBron James, the basketball star, has 34.3 million. The soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, nearly 50.2 million.

Top 10 starts with Justin Timberlake (58.1 million) and goes up to Justin Bieber (No. 2, 91.9 million) and Katy Perry (No.1, 96 million).

Katy Perry says on her bio, “Artist. Activist. Conscious.”

The Olympic values: “Respect. Excellence. Friendship.”

Why is she so big and the IOC so — not?

The Olympic charter is, essentially, a rough facsimile of one of the American organic documents, the Declaration of Independence.

What makes the Olympic movement different from for-profit sports entities is the values at the core of the charter. Those are democratic values — democratic with a little d.

Right now, again no exaggeration, all this is at risk.

The proof is in the races for the 2022 and 2024 Games.

For 2022, five cities in western Europe dropped out of the running, put off by the costs of an Olympics, in particular the $51 billion figure associated with the 2014 Sochi Games.That left the IOC to choose between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The members chose Beijing, site of the 2008 Summer Games, by four votes. The Chinese figure to keep infrastructure outlay down by not including however many billions it’s going to cost to build a high-speed rail line up to the mountains — where there’s no snow.

If you take away a fair accounting of what's what and the humanistic ideals that underpin this entire Olympic thing, you very quickly have to ask what this is all about— and, of course, if this Olympic thing isn't really dealing from a position of weakness.

It’s entirely reasonable to ask what position the IOC is in now.

Two surviving bids. (2024, 2022)

"Choosing" between a totalitarian or autocratic regime. (2022)

In December 2014, the IOC, urged by president Thomas Bach, passed a 40-point purported reform plan dubbed Agenda 2020. Virtually nobody believes that any of the reforms, particularly as they relate to Olympic bids, are meaningful. Why? Because there’’s no factual evidence any of them are real.

Instead, what we have is blather and puffery.

The Rio 2016 Games were nothing less than an organizational and financial calamity. Yet the IOC, in December, called them the “most perfect imperfect Games.”

This sort of thing is why, even before Rio but amid the 2022 campaign implosions, the locals in Boston said no — social-media agitation playing a key role. The U.S. Olympic Committee made the dumb choice early on to go to Boston before reversing course and heading to LA.

Boston’s no-Games activists took their social-media expertise to Germany. A 2015 referendum there sank the Hamburg bid.

It can hardly be coincidental that over time the results of these referendums are, for the IOC, getting worse. A vote four years ago in St. Moritz — in Switzerland, of all places, the IOC’s longtime base — asked voters if they wanted 2022. No, by 53 percent. They tried again last month, again in St. Moritz, for the 2026 Games. No, by 60 percent.

Rome pulled out last fall for different reasons: the mayor said the city had better things to spend money on than the Olympics.

Who, on January 1 of this year, thought a Budapest referendum might be in the offing?

Now the Budapest bid is dead. Layers of government had spent years putting together investment, strategy and branding. It all blew up that quick.

A campaign stitched together by local organizers, Momentum Mozgalom, in a matter of weeks — weeks! — managed to collect 266,151 signatures in favor of holding a referendum on the bid.


“It is disappointing that this [Budapest] decision had to be taken — the candidature committee had presented an excellent project, which was built on the reforms contained in Olympic Agenda 2020,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said, and poor Mark Adams, because if the “reforms” were truly meaningful and the bid truly was so “excellent” it’s hard to see how 266,151 people thought maybe they ought to have a vote on that, and nonetheless he has to get up and say this sort of stuff.

So what is the lesson of Boston, Hamburg, Budapest and, perhaps, Paris?

It’s not who is president of the United States or France or wherever. Donald Trump, whatever. Marine le Pen, François Fillon, Emmanuel Macron, Benoit Hamon, whoever.

Presidential politics matters, but not now in the way most in the media are trying to wrap their minds around. That was then, so 2007, and this is now:

The real threat to the Paris bid — and it is potentially lethal — is social media and the possibility if not probability of a follow-on referendum.

That threat is immediate. It is, too, this spring and summer. It is even after September 13, the day the IOC is due to meet in Lima, Peru, to decide the 2024 winner.

To explain:

In 2017, the ability to communicate directly via social media— and, critically, to organize — is more ready than at any time in human history. See Trump’s presidential campaign. See the so-called women’s marches upon the Trump inauguration. See any number of other examples.

Practically, what this means — for the Olympic scene — is this logic tree:

1. Any democratic society that has a 2. government-run Olympic bid and/or organizing committee but at the same time 3. community activists who 4. are fired up over something, whatever that may be 5. with unfettered access to the internet 6. will inevitably, and probably sooner than later, figure out that they can leverage that activism and gain not just political notoriety but power through social media by seeking a referendum on the Olympic project. Consequently, 7. the referendum absolutely, positively will significantly threaten if not sink the project.

This sound overly dramatic?

It’s not.

This is what the IOC needs, and now, to take stock of.

Social media is not just Katy Perry or Justin Bieber’s marketing fun. It is a tool for political activism and organization. If people sniff out a con or a problem — even if it is not true — it can, and will, explode. If there is concern or anxiety, it can — and will — explode.

Hungary, a democratic parliamentary republic since just 1989: 266,151 signatures on a Budapest 2024 referendum in a matter of weeks.

Just imagine what could be done in France, where democracy has been in action for considerably many more years. That is a powder keg waiting for the spark.

Maybe it’s already lit. Activists say they have collected 5,000 signatures toward a referendum.

The Paris 2024 argument can essentially be boiled down to two factors: One, we’re Paris. Two, it’s 100 years since we held the 1924 Games.

To be clear, there has never been a legitimate poll in Paris assessing public support for the 2024 project.

Let’s say a poll comes out and the yes numbers are at 60. A no campaign that starts looking up only at 10 points — that, given social media, would be so easy to wipe out. The bid would essentially be DOA.

Let’s say further that the IOC were to foolishly opt for sentiment instead of common sense. Even so, the risk to the Paris project extends beyond September 13.

By no means would an IOC vote for Paris in any way stop the prospect of a referendum. Has the IOC even paused for a moment to consider this notion?

Over seven years, the time from awarding a Games to opening ceremony, governments change. If a referendum passes, what is the IOC going to do — go where it’s not wanted? Sue? Oh, sure — litigate (in some forum) and then force the French government to pay, because that is just the thing to make other governments want to take on a Games down the line.

By contrast: LA.

The difference between LA and Paris is as obvious as it is critical.

Paris for 2024 is a government-run enterprise. To reiterate the point made in this space over the past several weeks, recent editions of government-run Olympics have been bloated, and that is why taxpayers are mad as hell and that is why in the west they are both turning on the IOC and turning to social media to agitate: Sochi $51 billion, Beijing 2008 ($40 billion), Rio 2016 (projected $20 billion), Tokyo 2020 (now looking at $25-30 billion when the bid promised $7.8 billion). Given this record, there is no reason to expect anything but the same from Paris.

Los Angeles, the bid and, if it wins, the organizing committee, is privately funded. (Just as in 1984, which produced a $232.5 million surplus.)

What that means: a privately run LA 2024 project is, for the most part, out of the reach of government.

This is why surveys consistently have shown incredible taxpayer support for LA 2024 — 80 percent and higher.

In any democracy, there are always some people who don’t like something. That’s just life.

But if you wanted to start a referendum against LA 2024, it wouldn’t make any sense.

That would be like voting on whether you want the neighborhood grocery store run by Cousin Marvin to be open or closed. What? He’s a private business, just like Mrs. Anderson's bakery down the street. Leave him alone. And her, too.

Beyond which, mindful both of 1984 and of the Boston experience, the LA 2024 people at the outset went around town to hold 30 community meetings — not only to gauge but to build community support.

Did Paris have community meetings in every arrondissement? Hmm. Here is Danielle Simonnet, a Paris councillor for the city’s 20th arrondissement, telling Le Monde in its February 23 editions, “Of course we need a referendum,” later in the story calling Games costs “enormous,” adding, “The bill is going to be salty.”

Also, and this is just common sense talking along with some 30 years of journalism experience, if the LA plan was dicey or not well-cooked, and there needed to be a journalist to expose it, you can believe that journalist would already have found someone in that LA 2024 bid team. Or some soul within the bid team would have reached out to the journalist.

That has not happened, is very unlikely to happen, in Los Angeles.

Because, one, of that neighborhood reach-out in LA and, two, the LA plan is solid and privately funded. Example: the original thinking was, let’s build an expensive athletes’ village downtown. The bid team thought it through and shifted course, to the already-existing dorms at UCLA.

The Paris plan, again to contrast, calls for building a hugely expensive village in what is now a violence-marked banlieue called Seine-Saint Denis.

Wait until someone on the ground in Paris or elsewhere in France, angry about something, figures that out.

That’s what referendums are for: made for sharing, indeed.

Probst up for IOC membership

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- It's nearly four years ago now that Chicago got thumped when the International Olympic Committee voted for the 2016 Summer Games host city. For the U.S. Olympic Committee, that was, indisputably, the low point.

It's worth bearing in mind all the time and miles in between then and now amid Tuesday's announcement by the International Olympic Committee of the nomination of nine new members, U.S. Olympic Committee board chair Larry Probst among them.

Probst's membership is for sure a milestone. Over time, it's likely to means more influence for the United States within the IOC, and as the USOC is considering bids for future Games -- in particular, as soon as 2024 -- that could be key.

At the same time, the United States still has a long, long way to go in becoming a power player in the IOC along the lines of, say, Switzerland, with five members.

For now, what Probst's membership marks is, simply, yet another step in the USOC's effort at quiet diplomacy.

He  -- and the other new members - will be sworn in at the end of the all-members assembly in September in Buenos Aires. They will not, repeat not, take part in the voting there.

At that September session, the IOC will elect a new president, replacing Jacques Rogge, who has been in office since 2001, as well as pick the site of the 2020 Summer Games. Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul are in the race. All three bid cities are making presentations here Wednesday in Lausanne to the full IOC. All six presidential candidates are likewise making presentations Thursday.

Four new athlete members, meanwhile, are due to be sworn in Wednesday. They were elected in voting from the London Games and will be eligible to vote in September.

When the nine new members are brought on board, assuming no other changes, that will bring the IOC membership to 113, spokesman Mark Adams said Tuesday.

Notable among the nine -- only one is from Asia, Mikaela Maria Antonia Cojuangco-Jaworski of the Philippines.

The list includes famed long-distance runner Paul Tergat of Kenya and Athens 2004 high-jump champion Stefan Holm of Sweden.

It also features the head of the Russian national Olympic committee, Alexander Zhukov. The next Winter Olympics, in February, will be held in Sochi.

Russia will then have four members.

The U.S., too -- when Probst is sworn in, the Americans will count him, Anita DeFrantz, Jim Easton and Angela Ruggiero.

Even so, the U.S. has for years lacked significant political influence within the IOC.

DeFrantz has been a member since 1986. She served on the policy-making executive board from 1992 to 2001. She has since run for office unsuccessfully; she is standing this September again for the board.

Easton has in recent years played a markedly reduced role.

Ruggiero is widely seen as an up-and-comer. At the same time, as an athlete member, she is already three years through her fixed term of eight years.

Thus Probst's entry is widely seen as an important step in bringing back a measure of American influence.

"The U.S. is a very strong and important partner of the IOC," Adams said at a briefing Tuesday at the IOC's Lake Geneva headquarters, the Chateau de Vidy. "Larry's nomination is a sign of that and a sign of continuing cooperation with the USOC."

For his part, Probst said in a statement released by the USOC, “I am truly honored to be nominated for membership in the IOC, and extremely grateful for the potential opportunity to serve the Olympic Movement."

Last year, the USOC and IOC resolved a longstanding dispute over certain television and marketing revenues. Probst's nomination is a reflection of that ongoing USOC-IOC "cooperation." It is by no means a quid pro quo for the deal.

Probst becomes the first USOC president -- as the jargon goes -- as IOC member since Sandy Baldwin. That's 11 years ago.

Bill Hybl served as USOC president and IOC member for two years, 2000-01.

Before that, you have to go back to Bob Helmick. He stepped down in 1991.

Again, Probst's entry is important. But it's just one step. It must be reiterated that the USOC has to be thinking in terms of the long run in assessing the political calculus of a Games bid.


There are 35 Olympic sports, summer and winter. The United States has no presidents among any of those 35 federations. It has one -- just one -- secretary general from among any of the 35, Svein Romstad, who runs the luge federation from, of all places, Atlanta.

Last year, American Doug Beal ran for the presidency of the international volleyball federation. The convention and election were held in Anaheim, Calif. Even so, he did not win.

The United States does, in fact, boast some international sports federation presidents. But they are not Olympic sports. They are in sports such as softball, surfing and cheerleading.

Then again, the situation now is better -- way better -- than in October, 2009, when Chicago got rocked.

U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati was elected in April to a four-year term to the FIFA executive committee.

USA Basketball chief executive Jim Tooley is in line to become FIBA Americas president for 2014-18.

Max Cobb, the USA Biathlon president and chief executive, heads the International Biathlon Union's technical committee.

These things, simply, take time.

This is what Probst came to understand in Copenhagen in October, 2009.

Before that, he did not totally understand how demanding the USOC board chairman's job was. Nor did he grasp fully how much time and how much travel it was going to take.

The next January, Scott Blackmun came on board as the USOC's chief executive.

Together, they vowed to repair the USOC's standing in international relations.

They said, privately and publicly, that relationship-building took time and effort. They said they were in it for the long haul.

Instead of sending staffers to meetings, Probst or Blackmun -- sometimes both -- started showing up.

Now, Probst and Blackmun serve on IOC committees. Probst is, as well, on the board of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees.

Blackmun, for that matter, is here in Lausanne for the second time in three weeks. He was here the first time for the ANOC assembly and is back now for an IOC marketing commission meeting.

It's active engagement. That's what it takes. That's what got Probst nominated Tuesday.

It's going to take more -- a lot more -- to win the United States an Olympic Games. Everyone should keep that in mind.

IOC short-lists three sports


ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- The ballroom here at the Lenexpo Convention Center here was jammed. TV crews and photographers assumed their positions, cameras trained on wrestling supporters in the front row of audience seats, immediately behind the ladies and gentlemen of the press. The tension was thick. Up on the dais, Mark Adams, the International Olympic Committee's spokesman, started to explain that the IOC's policy-making executive board had Wednesday afternoon decided to short-list just three sports for review this September by the all-members assembly in Buenos Aires. Everyone did quick math. Three sports in. That meant five were out. Which three?

Adams started to read off the first of the three: "Wrestling," he said, and in the instant before the place erupted someone in the wresting group summed it all with just one word that echoed across the hall: "Yeah!"

It took several long moments before order was restored, and Adams could then read off the other two: "Baseball and softball," he said, and then, "With apologies to the others, squash."

Jubilant wrestling officials meet the press after Wednesday's IOC executive board vote

With that, the IOC sought to turn the page in one of the most convoluted procedural and substantive fixes it has ever produced. Time, and only time, will tell whether it got this just right -- or profoundly wrong.

Cut were sport climbing, karate, roller sports, wakeboarding and the Chinese martial art of wushu.

In a statement, IOC president Jacques Rogge noted that "it was never going to be an easy decision" but this was a "good decision."

Thomas Bach, an IOC vice president and leading candidate to succeed Rogge in voting for the IOC presidency, said, "This is a good mixture between team sports, individual sports and martial arts."

The executive board voting Wednesday -- which followed 30-minute presentations by each of the eight sports -- proved complex. A sport made it through with a majority vote of the 14-member board; Rogge, a 15th potential ballot, did not vote.

The first round did not portend what was to come: wrestling made it through in just one ballot, with a majority of 8. The second round then took seven ballots before the combined baseball/softball bid defeated karate, 9-5. Squash got through in three rounds in the third with a majority of 8.

The IOC will pick one of the three -- or, perhaps, none -- in voting Sept. 8.

If the full membership selects wrestling for the sole vacant spot on the program, then the review process will have resulted in, essentially, no change -- at a time when the IOC is keen to be seen to be more vibrant in reaching out to a younger audience.

At the same time, the IOC has always sought to balance its traditions.

Therein lies the considerable tension.

A quick review of how the IOC got to Wednesday's action:

After every Games, the IOC reviews the line-up on the Games program.

By rule, the IOC sets these caps: 28 sports on the program and 10,500 athletes.

In 2009, the IOC decided to add rugby sevens and golf for the 2016 and 2020 Games.

For 2020, the review meant there would be 25 "core" sports plus golf and rugby. That meant -- and still means -- there would be one, and only one, open spot on the 2020 program.

In February, to considerable surprise, after its program commission -- chaired by Italy's Franco Carraro -- put every sport through a survey of 39 criteria, the executive board dropped wrestling from the core.

Wrestling's governing body, which goes by the acronym FILA, never saw it coming.

After all, wrestling had been on the ancient Games program. It had been on the program of every program in the modern Olympics.

In response, the federation got rid of its president, the Swiss Raphael Martinetti, and elected a new one, Serbian Nenad Lalovic. It enacted a series of rules changes aimed at making the sport more attractive.

"Wrestling needed to make the rules changes they did, and once they did, it gave the executive board an avenue to put wrestling on the short-list because it was a different wrestling than they saw in February," said Jim Scherr, the former U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive who is now a member of the FILA bureau.

Malaysia's seven-time squash world champion, Nicol David, said, "This is a great day for squash as it takes us one step closer to realizing our long-held ambition to join the Olympic Games. I said to the executive board that the one big regret in my career is that I have never had the chance to compete in the Olympic Games, but I would happily trade all my seven world titles for the chance of Olympic gold."

Baseball and softball formed a single international federation, the World Baseball Softball Confederation. They also laid out a plan to shorten their tournament and and play at one venue. Also, Major League Baseball and its players' association sent the IOC a letter confirming "our continuing support and confidence in finding the best possible … solution" for the "participation of professional players."

IOC sports director Christophe Dubi noted, "…They gave important assurance from the leagues that solutions will be found and this was presented today."

Both baseball and softball were kicked out of the Games in 2005, effective in 2008. Baseball had become part of the Olympics in 1992, softball in 1996. Don Porter, the longtime head of the softball effort, was visibly moved.

He said, "I have been through this a long, long time. I have been disappointed before. I just hoped we had done enough.

"This is like the seventh inning. Now we are heading to the ninth. We have runners on base and are going to work hard to bring those runners home."

Lalovic, the new wrestling president, used a different metaphor:

"The match is not finished," he said, adding a moment later, "We have to stay in the Olympics. This is our goal."


Boston Marathon bombings: 'For what? For what?'

The particular cruelty of the attack near the finish line of the Boston Marathon is not just that bombs killed and injured real people with real lives and real families who loved them. Who love them still. That is only the starting place.

The pictures from the scene, the descriptions of witnesses -- runners nearing the finish line, the roar of the two explosions, runners suddenly legless, the street awash in blood and gore -- are so horrifying in their brutality that they must shock any and all of us who adhere to the markers of a civil, decent world.

This picture from the Twitter feed of PR professional Bruce Mendelsohn shows some of the finish-line carnage

It is said that sport can show the path to a better world. It offers windows to a world in which we can talk to each other in ways we might not otherwise find. Through the tests of body, mind and soul, sport can illuminate such things as friendship, excellence and respect -- the so-called Olympic values.

There is in all of sport perhaps no greater individual test than the marathon. It's just you and yourself out there. No matter how many thousands of people are in the race with you, it's really just you and however much will you can summon to keep going.

This would seem what the blasts were really aimed at Monday.

They were timed to do maximum damage not just in the real world we live in.

They were aimed at an idea -- more, at an ideal.

The blasts were of course a statement. Why else did they go off near the finish line of the marathon that is, of all the road races in the world, the most venerated?

Three people were killed and more than 100 injured in the two blasts, authorities were reporting late Monday evening. The explosions went off, seconds apart, about four hours after the start of the men's race.

Roupen Bastajian, a state trooper from Rhode Island, was receiving his finisher's medal after completing the race in 4 hours, 2.42 seconds. He crossed at 2:43 p.m., about seven minutes before the first explosion, as he told the New York Times. He thought at first it might be a symbolic cannon. Then he heard the second blast and started running toward the white smoke. He saw at least 40 people on the ground:

“These runners just finished and they don’t have legs now. So many of them. There are so many people without legs. It’s all blood. There’s blood everywhere. You got bones, fragments. It’s disgusting. It’s like a war zone.”

President Obama, in a statement from the White House, said, "We will get to the bottom of this. We will find out who did this, and we will find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice."

The president did not refer to the attacks as an act of terrorism. He cautioned everyone from "jumping to conclusions."

You can be sure, however, that federal, state and law enforcement authorities are going to treat this as terrorism. You've got multiple explosive devices. On a stage designed to attract national and international attention. That equals an act of terror.

The pressing question, of course, is -- what is the motive behind Monday's attack?

Monday was tax day in the United States. Is that it?


It was the Patriots' Day holiday Monday in Massachusetts, which commemorates the opening battles of the American Revolutionary War, the battles of Lexington and Concord, on April 19, 1775. Massachusetts switched its observation of the day itself to the third Monday in April in 1969, and Patriots' Day there in recent years is as much known for the marathon as for the holiday.

The holiday, however, carries significance for anti-government activists and this third week in April carries a number of anniversaries with potential significance: the assault in Waco, Texas, that ended a 51-day standoff and left 80 members of a religious group called the Branch Davidians dead (April 19, 1993); the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, which officials have said was carried out in part as a response to the Waco event (April 19, 1995); and, as well, school shootings in Columbine, Colo. (April 20, 1999) and at Virginia Tech (April 16, 2007).

The shootings at Virginia Tech and the Waco assault took place on a Monday -- Patriots' Day itself those particular years.

Is there a connection to any or all of those events?

As everyone knows, security at all sports events has ramped up considerably since the Munich 1972 Games and again since 9/11.

International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams, quoted by Associated Press, said "first thoughts" were with the victims of Monday's attack and their families. Rio 2016 organizers expressed their "deep thoughts and condolences" and Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, condemned what she called an "insane act of violence."

Brazil, host to not just the 2016 Summer Games but the 2014 World Cup, has never confronted a significant threat of terror attacks.

The inescapable truth is that a marathon is 100 percent impossible to make safe. The corollary: that makes a marathon, especially one of the majors, a hugely attractive target.

The 2004 Athens Games marathon was disrupted when Neil Horan, a defrocked Irish priest who that day was wearing a red kilt, knocked race leader Vanderlei de Lima off course with just five kilometers to go. Stunned, de Lima picked himself up and continued to race, eventually finishing third. Horan, who had a history of mental illness, was given a 12-month suspended jail term, a 3,000-euro fine and banned from all future sports events.

What happened Monday in Boston is, needless to say, several orders of magnitude beyond that.

At the same time, it reinforces the point -- a marathon can not be made "safe."

The London Marathon is due to take place Sunday. Officials there, according to a statement released by the London Marathon Twitter account, are already reviewing security arrangements.

Whoever set off those bombs Monday in Boston sought to effect maximum damage. Literally, figuratively and -- perhaps most important -- to our collective imagination.

Lauren Fleshman, one of America's top female runners, was in Boston, cheering on friends. She  wrote on her blog that the "area by the finish was so packed that you couldn't even move."

She also wrote, "The Boston Marathon has so many stories from thousands of people that won't be told, because a few people are cruel and crazy and impossible to understand, and that makes me even sadder than I already am."

Paul Thompson, a 29-time finisher of the race, a sports cardiologist who has made a career out of studying the health implications of running the Boston Marathon, talked with the Wall Street Journal as he was driving away from the bloody scene near the finish line. He was crying.

"For what? For what?" he said. "These people are totally innocent. They're not engaged in combat."