Amazing how times change.  For decades the Boston Athletic Association was the most staunchly conservative organization in all of running, fighting tooth and nail against the encroachment of open prize money into the Boston Marathon.  After their Luddite stance led to a major reduction in overall participation and an evisceration of the elite field in 1985, Boston Mayor Ray Flynn entered the picture and threatened to pull Boston city permits. Only in the face of that force was the B.A.A. dragged, unwillingly, into the 20th century. By 1986 John Hancock Financial Services was signed as the major sponsor, and the addition of prize money- and Hancock appearance fees – returned Boston to its rightful place at the forefront of world marathons.

Today, the B.A.A. announced the creation of  a new B.A.A. Distance Medley, combining three of its annual events into a single series with a payout to the male and female winners of $100,000 each. The three events, the B.A.A. 5K, B.A.A. 10K, and B.A.A. Half Marathon will be scored by combining times in all three races, and will help celebrate the 125th anniversary year of the organization in 2012.

The only odd thing about the series is that the men and women who might be most likely to win may not participate at all.  You see, with the B.A.A. 5K run on Boston Marathon weekend in April, the athletes who run the marathon on Patriot’s Day won’t run the 5k, too, and therefore will be ineligible for the Distance Medley title and purse.

This year Marathon podium finishers Geoffrey Mutai, Moses Mosop, and Gebre Gebremariam returned to run the B.A.A. 10K in June.  Under the new Medley format, they could still race the 10k, earn prize money for that race, and even compete in the half-marathon (though historically, the B.A.A. Half-Marathon fields in October have not been on par with the marathon fields in terms of quality).  Problem is, they wouldn’t have a 5k time to add for Medley pay-off purposes.

B.A.A. Executive Director Tom Grilk

     Notwithstanding, the B.A.A. Distance Medley is another welcome sign in the fully reformed resurrection of one of the sport’s signature organizations.  Kudos to Executive Director Tom Grilk, under whose leadership the B.A.A. continues to exemplify the bold direction it first displayed during its 19th century beginnings, a goal Grilk articulated earlier this year New Direction Outlined for Boston Athletic Association.



  1. Henry,

    Trying (rather unsuccessfully, it would seem) to impart a little history, context, and praise in regards the BAA’s offering of their soon to be realized BAA Distance Medley…For those who did not live through the recalcitrant years of the mid-1980s when the sport was undergoing a fundamental move from an amateur past to a semi-professional future, the BAA board of governors was four-square behind the amateur past even if that meant the demise of the marathon as the rest of the world began paying athletes prize and appearance fees to run.

    You may or may not recall that there was once a BAA Indoor Games held every year at the old Boston Garden. But when athletes began asking for wages to compete, the BAA refused until which point the fans stop coming because the best athletes went elsewhere. It reached a point in the 1960s when the BAA simply closed down their 75 year old indoor games rather than address the issue of prize money. Such was the path the Boston Marathon was on, as well, in the 1980s. And those in the sport in Boston feared what would become of one of the city’s great institutions.

    What I am saying now is, isn’t it lovely that a body once so opposed to modernity is now taking bold steps to embrace it, and even reaching out beyond the marathon to develop their brand? The prize purse for the BAA 5k isn’t huge, $25,000, I believe. And it may have made more sense to leverage the John Hancock appearance fees to the marathoners so that those names might return for the 10k and half-marathon (like the marathon podium finishers did in 2011). But that is picking at rather a minor point. With runners like Kim Smith and Werknesh Kidane already signed on for the Distance Medley, the success of the series is already secured. I hope I have shed some light on my original post. Thanks for reading and responding.

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