The death of 29-year-old Michael Michaelovich during a city-sponsored half marathon on Friday has sparked a grave blame game, with the Tel Aviv municipality and the Health Ministry trading accusations over the weekend. The Health Ministry denied any responsibility on Saturday, insisting that it was entirely the municipality's decision to hold the run despite extreme hot temperatures on Friday.
Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Ronny Gamzo has appointed an investigative committee to examine the authorization process of this weekend's Tel Aviv marathon, and to formulate guidelines for future events.
During the half marathon that was held on Friday, dozens of runners sustained serious injuries due to the extreme heat. The municipality, which suffered most of the criticism, explained that the race had been approved under the guidance of the Health Ministry. "The Health Ministry sent an official letter and the municipality acted in exact accordance with the guidelines therein. The full marathon was cancelled, and the rest of the races were scheduled to end at 9:30 a.m.," said a municipality official.
The municipality official added that at the time of Michaelovich's death, the temperature was not exceptional. The municipality stressed that Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was not planning to resign over the incident. "We will investigate the incident thoroughly," said Huldai. "We will draw the necessary conclusions."
"Before the race, professional discussions were held involving the most senior medical officials. The municipality fully adopted the recommendations of the medical community and acted in complete accordance with them," Huldai added.
For their part, Health Ministry officials said that they had warned of the possible dangers of holding the race as planned as early as the Monday before the event. "Afterward," said one official, "representatives of the Tel Aviv municipality tried every possible avenue to find a solution, including starting the event earlier or shortening the race. Every municipality proposal was examined by physiologists from the Wingate Institute [Israel's national center for physical education and sport], the Education Ministry, and experts from Ichilov Hospital [Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center], Tel Aviv University, the IDF, the Health Ministry and the municipality. We didn't oppose the final proposal. The decision what recommendations to adopt and in what way was entirely up to the municipality, after it was briefed on all the risks. The municipality could have decided to cancel the event altogether."
The committee established by the Health Ministry will not only discuss the impact of weather conditions on future sports events, but also the recommended timing of events during the year as well as during the day, regulations regarding the cancelation of events already underway, infrastructure considerations and the sharing of information with participants.
The committee will be headed by Professor Danny Moran, an expert on the physiology of stress and the head of a national program aimed at promoting a healthy, active lifestyle. The committee will be manned by representatives of the Health Ministry as well as expert medical professionals. The committee will submit its findings within 90 days.
"He just became a father"
"We are heartbroken over this tragedy that should never have happened," said a relative of Michael Michaelovich, who died on Friday during the race. "If the organizers had followed the protocols of holding a marathon during a heat wave, this tragedy could have been averted. It is unfathomable that a young man, with his entire life ahead of him, passed away because directions weren't followed."
Michaelovich, a dog handler in the IDF canine unit, became a father three months ago. He lived in an agricultural community near Kiryat Malachi, and was supposed to move into a new home in Kiryat Gat with his wife and child this week. "He was the salt of the earth," said another relative. "He was young and motivated, and he felt that the IDF was his calling. He attended a sports event in the morning, and several hours later he was dead. This is an enormous screw up; it is unacceptable."
"He trained a lot to stay fit. He devoured long distances without any problem. And in the end it was a sports event, which should abide by professional guidelines, that killed him?" he went on to say.
Dozens of family members, friends and colleagues arrived at the home of the widow's parents to offer their condolences. The commander of Michaelovich's unit, Lt. Col. Ariel Ben-Dayan, wrote: "You were one of the most professional and value-driven fighters and commanders I have ever known. I will very much miss the moments we shared."
Study: One in 50,000 runners could die during a marathon
One of every 22,000 marathon runners could suffer a heart attack during a race, and one in 50,000 could die as a result, a study conducted at the University of Minnesota has found.
During the course of the study, researchers examined the physical condition of some 550,000 marathon runners who completed a full marathon between the years 1982 and 2009. Men were found to be nearly six times more likely to suffer a heart attack as a result of running than women. In four cases, runners collapsed after completing the marathon or no more than 100 meters (330 feet) from the finish line, whereas the rest of the instances occurred in the middle of the race, and in once instance, only 100 meters from the start line.