The following is a response to my last post TRACK ATHLETES IN SEARCH OF ALAN LADD which outlined the political wranglings at last weekend’s Aviva London Grand Prix where American runners Nick Symmonds and Lolo Jones were barred by meet director Ian Stewart for being “liabilities”.
Today’s responder is none other than legendary 1980s Chicago Marathon race director Bob Bright who helped steer what was then a regional-quality event into the deep waters of the marathon mainstream.
With the backing of Beatrice Foods sponsor money, Bright brought marathon recruitment to a new level of sophistication. After taking the helm in 1982, he was the first scour the European track circuit for marathon talent. On the continent Welshman Steve Jones caught Bright’s eye, and in 1983 he was lured to Chicago for a $1500 fee to try on the marathon for size. After a DNF caused by a run-in with a pothole past half-way, Jones returned in 1984 ready, willing, evidently able. Avoiding all hazards of the Windy City roads Jonesy bested the reigning Olympic champion Carlos Lopes of Portugal and 1983 World Champion Rob de Castella of Australia by breaking the marathon world record (2:08:05). The following year Bright engineered the Joan Samuelson-Ingrid Kristiansen-Rosa Mota women’s battle that produced Joanie’s 18-year standing American record 2:21:21.
The following is Bob’s recollection of the 1986 Chicago Marathon and his behind-the-scenes tangle with Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen, at the time the women’s marathon record holder. Evidently the more things change, the more they remain the same.
“Toni, I read your last post with interest and it sparked memories of some long past shoot-outs.
After a 25 year walkabout, I have to agree with you, nothing has changed. There appears to be zero leadership. With no leadership, meet directors become war lords. I liked the war part but never reached the lord status.
Meet directors cannot let athletes run over them, and athletes in some cases are vulnerable. A proper governing body would set standards, enforce rules and help solve problems similar to the recent London kerfuffle. We will differ here; I would support the Ian Stewart position. Here is why and you might have some insight into this situation.
In the spring of 1986 I received a call from the Ingrid Kristiansen’s connections in Norway stating she wanted to try and break the marathon World Record in October. I flew to Oslo, met with Ingrid and her people for four hours in a bank with no lunch. The deal: a $40k appearance fee with travel and accommodations for five people. No Joanie, Rosa or any other heavy who would pressure Ingrid in the race. Just a greased skid where she could blast. The grease was $40K.
As October approached, I heard rumors from European contacts that she was slightly injured. I tried but couldn’t make contact with her coach or agent. On Wednesday before the race her party (8 people) shows up. They need rooms and travel money for the additional folks. Ingrid hides in her room and sends her husband to collect her appearance fee. Not much luck with that stunt. The running gun-battle is launched. Alan Ladd has gone missing. Lawyers, agents, hangers-on and journalists jump into the melee. I’m surrounded.
I have a slightly? injured athlete demanding her appearance money (not hiding but resting) and an agent representing IMG declaring she is under contract to wear a MAZDA racing singlet which will upstage a race sponsor. Right there, I should have declared Ingrid a ‘LIABILITY’ and sent her packing. Where was Ian Stewart when I needed him?
So, at the end of the day Ingrid will run after agreeing to reduce the size of the MAZDA logo on the singlet. On race morning she shows up on the start line wearing the singlet with the large logo she and her agent agreed not to wear.
With $40K in her pocket, sightly injured, no competition, she strolls down the course in about 2.28 (2:27:08) and picks up another big first place check ($40,000 plus a $25,000 car – not a Mazda).
Now here is a big-time issue where the governing body was needed and would have stepped in and done their job. During the run Ingrid ingested on two occasions pills handed to her by a member of her entourage (she said they were for menstrual cramps) but clearly a major rule violation. I wanted to DQ her but with all the pre-race public controversy my hands were tied. At the post-race press conference Ingrid bad-mouthed me, the race and vowed to never return. Our loyal Chicago Tribune reporter Phil Hersh wrote it all down with glee but skipped the back story.
Anyway Toni, that’s my story and I am sticking to it.
Thanks to Bob for his stroll down memory lane. Though things did not turn out as all had hoped in Chicago 1986, no one could accuse Ingrid Kristiansen of dogging it. She went through the halfway point in 1:09:44 before slowing in the second half, winning (as Bob had all but promised) by nearly three minutes. Judging from her demeanor at the finish, though, she was not a happy camper - as much a product of her own drive and personal disappointment as to how the politics played out.
At the same time, isn’t it amazing how the past is but a reflection of the present, and once again points to the shortcomings of the governing bodies who seem to want to be Players instead of simply governors. Then again, with no professional wing to balance the structure of the sport, the athletes have no one to blame but themselves for not forming that wing.
For those too young to recall, Bob Bright was perhaps best known as the quote-worthy rival to New York City Marathon director Fred Lebow. Bob and Fred’s recruiting wars in the mid-1980s when Chicago and New York were only a week apart on the fall marathon calendar, and both were shown live on network television, brought running to perhaps its highest public acclaim, a position the sport has seen erode dramatically in the ensuing years. Today, Bob is retired and living in Arizona.