NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (March 14, 2011) – Officials of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon have announced a major incentive for emerging American elite distance runners and a challenge to event directors of major U.S. distance races to help support the development of U.S. distance runners and to build upon the decade-plus resurgence.
“We want as many American men and women to participate in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston this January 14 and to that end, we will bonus any American $1000 cash for qualifying for the Trials at our race,” said Steve Nearman, event director of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon, scheduled for Oct. 2. “This means sub-1:05:00 for men and sub-1:15:00 for women.”
Nearman also announced another initiative, based on an inspiring story brought back from the recent Running USA 2011 conference by American Running Association CEO Dave Watt.
Watt recounted a moment at the conference when Team USA Arizona founder and coach Greg McMillan and his runners took the stage to receive a $25,000 grant from Running USA. McMillan and some of his runners in his emerging program broke into tears of joy at the significance of the grant. Many of the 500 attendees at the awards ceremony also got teary-eyed.
This story so moved officials of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half that they committing $1 per entry to fund an elite training program for the Olympic year 2012. With an expected sellout of more than 6,000 entrants, race officials are hoping their sizable grant will inspire other races to do the same.
“I challenge my friends and fellow event directors to follow suit,” stated Nearman, adding that the Wilson Bridge Half already awards American-only prize money. “If Carey Pinkowski of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon could donate $1 per runner, we’re talking $45,000-plus. Dave McGillvray at Boston, another $25,000-plus. Mary Wittenberg at New York City, another $50,000-plus. Rick Nealis at Marine Corps, another $30,000-plus. Same with Jim Vandak at the Army Ten-Miler, another $30,000 or so. That’s nearly $200,000 right there to support American runners.”
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We salute Mr. Nearman for both his vision and his challenge. The idea of race directors self-taxing at $1.00 per entry to help fund U.S. distance running camps is both a welcome move, and an old idea.
It is one of the original funding mechanisms utilized by Running USA to help support Team USA California in Mammoth Lakes eleven years ago. New York Road Runners President Alan Steinfeld contributed $1.00 per U.S. entry from the New York City Marathon, and other funds were raised by 30-40 other contributors at $5,000 per.
However, the concept of a $1.00 per entry contribution to support U.S. running never gained widespread traction, though it would have spread the funding over the widest base, the entire racing community. The thinking always came down to, “Developing the sport isn’t my responsibility. That’s what USATF is supposed to do.”
True enough, part of USATF’s mandate is to develop talent. And at one time every runner registering for the New York City, Boston, and Columbus Marathons were required to secure a TAC (precursor to USATF) membership card in order to compete. Today, this mechanism is utilized by USA Triathlon. Every competitor must join, at least for that one race day.
However, after years of returning nothing to the road community for the dollars raised, USATF was stripped of the membership requirement by the three major marathons.
As I wrote in my previous post SKATING OVER DIMES, the idea of $1.00 check-off box on every road race entry form - similar to the presidential election check-off box - had been considered years before. However, the road community’s thinking was best reflected in the words of then Atlanta Track Club president and USATF Women’s Long Distance Running Committe head Julia Emmons, director of the Peachtree Road Race.
“If people are looking for big races to contribute $1.00 per entry for fund-raising, we won’t do it. It’s easy mathematics, but very naïve. We won’t raise our entry fee from $15 to $16. How do I go to my board and say, ‘Okay, we use dollars from around the community, and send it to some national organization?’ It’s not how we work, or how we sell our event. We’d be glad to give $5000, but not $50,000. We are not taking dollars out of high school athletics for something vague just because we are stronger than ever.”
That each-to-his-own mentality is what helped build road race participation to the grand heights we see today. But it was also a major factor in the slow demise of American athletes as they were forced to compete in a totally unregulated market against athletes to whom $5000 represented a buying power of 380,000 Kenyan shillings. This incentive imbalance led Americans to over race, which lessened their competiveness even further until we witnessed just one American man and one woman qualifying for the 2000 Olympic Marathons.
Running USA was born out of that sad circumstance, and began funding Team USA California in Mammoth Lakes. Over the last two years, however, the organization has morphed into a trade organization, and pulled their support for the Mammoth Track Club in 2009.
It will be interesting to see if any of the major events rise to Mr. Nearman’s challenge. Or, indeed, if his race will see fit to maintain its funding for more than just one year. As anyone who trains knows, it takes an extended time to reach one’s full potential.