((18-Nov) -- One of Europe's most important road races, the NN Zevenheuvelenloop (Seven Hills Run) in Nijmegen has been cancelled due to rising COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands. Organizers of the famous 15-kilometer race, where the world best times for both men and women were set, were ready to make a triumphant return on Sunday after a two-year hiatus, but were forced to cancel the race only yesterday.
PHOTO: Ethiopia's Letesenbet Gidey setting a world best for 15 kilometers at the 2019 NN Zevenheuvelenloop (photo courtesy of the NN Zevenheuvelenloop)
"We really did everything we could to set up a safe NN Zevenheuvelenloop," said Alexander Vandevelde the director of the Zevenheuvelenloop Foundation in a statement. "Our gratitude goes out to the municipality of Nijmegen for all their efforts and of course also to everyone who supported us until the last moment in our search for a safe edition. We sympathize with the disappointed runners who were looking forward to our fall classic."
According to data maintained by the New York Times, the Netherlands has a COVID case rate of 96 per 100,000 people, one of the highest in Europe. That's about four times the case rate in the United States (27) where cases have also been rising.
On November 8, the American health agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moved the Netherlands to Level 4 status, the highest COVID risk rating given to a country, and advised Americans to avoid travel to the Netherlands.
"Because of the current situation in the Netherlands, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants," the CDC said in an advisory.
The NN Zevenheuvelenloop was founded in 1984 and has consistently been one of the world's most competitive road races. Past champions include Ethiopia's Haile Gebreselasie, Tirunesh Dibaba and Sileshi Sihene (three victories each); Kenya's Tegla Loroupe (3 wins), and Scotland's Liz McColgan (1 win). Most recently, Olympic gold medalist Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda has dominated the men's race. He won four years in a row, from 2015 through 2018, and set a world best of 41:05 in 2018 (World Athletics does not recognize world records at the 15-K distance). He was scheduled to run this year's race.
At the last edition in 2019, Ethiopia's Letesenbet Gidey ran a women's world best of 44:20. The race had a total of 19,837 finishers that year.
Nijmegen's mayor Hubert Bruls was disappointed that the race had to be cancelled. But, through a statement he said there was no choice.
"We have been busy mapping out the possibilities in recent days, but in the current situation, unfortunately, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the event is currently not justified," Mayor Bruls said. "All those people running through the streets, the length of the course, and with it the practical impossibility of regulating the public, turned out to be unrealistic in combination with the corona measures in force. That is why, in consultation with the organization and the municipality of Berg en Dal, we have decided not to let the run go ahead."