BOB BRIGHT: AFTER 25 YEARS NOTHING HAS CHANGED

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 to scour the  European track circuit for marathon talent.  There Welshman Steve Jones caught Bright’s eye, and in 1983 Bright lured Jonesy 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 next 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.

What follows 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. 

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“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? Continue reading