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.
“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.
18 thoughts on “BOB BRIGHT: AFTER 25 YEARS NOTHING HAS CHANGED”
Where are you now, Bob? Was thinking about you and some other adventures! Tim
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Dear Toni , you don’t have a clue as to what real objectivity is. Bob Bright is an athlete yet is able to profoundly rise above a narrow subjective ideal by championing the sport above the needs of the current participants of an era. We could use more like him in all sports.
Hodgie, I had forgotten about the Hersh article, thanks.
The main concern was not so much about the sponsor logo but her condition and hiding out in her room. I never saw Ingrid until race morning.
At some point I did make the offer to give her the 40k and she could go run the Bank ! race in Columbus which they were threatening to do .It was the same day.
Appearance money and she did appear, so said the lawyers.
The goal of the Ingrid camp was to get all the money. 40 appearance, 40 prize. 5 or 10 from Mazda and the car. In Columbus she makes with the Chicago 40 about 50k max. In Chicago she took home about 100K.
I think after the race Ingrid tried to spin it in her favor.
It was pretty intense berfore the race but the Ingrid people never offered to give up anything.
If the compromise you mentioned had been made I was not aware. The debate was not so much about money but deception.
How does one “guarantee to be in world record shape”? All you can do is make the attempt to get there. Then if you come down with an injury heading toward that perilous-peak-of-perfection, how do you penalize an athlete for that? It’s the nature of the game. I do agree, however, that the athlete keeping quiet about her condition once the injury came up wasn’t kosher, and should have involved a financial penalty.
It is another example of how in many areas (and still today) the sport remains less than fully professional. Perhaps a contract could be written which took into account the different possibilities, including injury in training, and the level of financial investment for each of those potentials.
But to some degree, building your race on the capability and health of one athlete was a risk you had to know your were taking when you signed her up. True?
Why do you insist on defending the indefensible.
Because even though your billed as a Broadcaster/Jouralnist you really are an athlete advocate.
You feel duty bound to defend Ingrid even though compared to Joanie, Rosa and Greta she had a checkered career.
Folks, including you are trying to build a sport around the wants and needs of athletes. Hows that working out. Athletes are hear today and gone tomorrow.
Remember when I called you from Chicago the day they hired me. I told you the marathon was a potential Ferrari ready to race. All of the infastructure was in place though the entrepreneuial vision of the Founder Lee Flaherty. I was the mechanic/driver charged with hiring the entertainment. (elite athletes) In a great race the elite runners are only one ingredient for overall success. You need a total package,
Lee Flaherty and I had are battles. But when the novelty of Bob Bright wore off, I was sent packing. I should have sent Ingrid packing the minute she started the diversionary tactics taking focus off the real problem. She wasn’t ready to live up to the written agreement she insisted we produce when I as in Oslo.
Athlete advocates, like you, pressured me into letting her run and I caved. Big mistake.
Now Toni, the novelty of our little visit is over and it is time to go back to being retired.
Kristiansen Runs Into Sponsor Problems
October 27, 1986|By Phil Hersh.
Ingrid Kristiansen was offered $40,000, her appearance fee, not to run Sunday`s America`s Marathon/Chicago.
Kristiansen, through her representatives, offered to forfeit the appearance fee and run the race for nothing but the prize money.
That is how huge a dispute over the size of a sponsor`s logo became in the final hours before Kristiansen took the money and ran–and, almost incidentally, won the women`s title in Sunday`s marathon.
Just curious Bob, did she really offer to return the appearance fee? That seems to me like an excellent compromise.
Ingrid Kristiansen’s conduct before, during and after the 1986 race was 100% unacceptable and dishonest.
She was paid a large appearance fee (40k) with the guarantee she would be in World Record shape. She was not and neglected to inform me she was slighly injured.
Had there not been a pre race public debate about her condition, racing singlet advertising debacle, she should have been DQed.
In 1985 her appearance fee was 15k and Joanie dusted her. She received a 25K raise in 1986 for one reason.
I wanted to give her her appearance fee and send her home but I was pressured by many of your pals to let her run.
The biggest pay check in history for a public work out and then she bad mouths everybody.
To add insult to injury you think it was OK “she wasn’t dogging it”
You wonder why the sport is a mess when somebody with you knowledge is really an athlete apologist and doesn’t assume the middle ground where you could help make change.
Bob Bright, retired
I hope you are doing well these days in retirement in Arizona. I hate to say it but it is clear that you were badly snookered! Your athletes motivation to run a WR is no competition and $40K up front?
You should have cleared up the race vs. athlete conflicting sponsor issue before you ever agreed to the deal, right?
I think you would have done better if they fed you some lunch. Haha.
Hodgie, You nailed it. Lunch was the problem. Can’t win them all. How did you spend all the money I gave you? Haha
I believe I bought a brand new used car, a CHEVY NOVA!
I thought for sure you bought a cottage at the Cape, a new Mercedes or even took your pals from Greater Boston on a cruise.
Oops, maybe I was snookered again, I gave your additional money to Randy and I felt certain, he being a Greater Boston man, would turn it over at first sight I don’t think I have his number. It’s been awhile,
Hodgie, I am glad you checked in. If running had a proper national leadership body with teeth, all the snookering could be held in check.
I personally don’t like the idea of American-only prizes, which only help the individual athlete. It doesn’t create a system which is replicable. By contributing to American training camps, a system is established which supports the overall goal on an on-going basis as athletes rotate in and out.
If people want to help support American runners, the best way is to contribute to organizations like the USATF Foundation and Running USA (disclaimer: I am on Running USA board of directors). http://runningusa.org/
From its website http://usatffoundation.org/
“The USA Track & Field Foundation provides a means to attract and guide funds to new and innovative track and field programs, with an emphasis on providing opportunities for youth athletes, emerging elite athletes, distance training centers and anti-doping education. The Foundation depends upon donations from its Board of Directors and from generous fans of track and field. Donations may be directed toward a specific program.”
Appearance, prize, and bonus money are all required. One size doesn’t suit all. You need the appearance for the true stars who carry the PR campaign leading up to the race. You need prize for the racers, and bonuses for the breakthroughs. It’s knowing how to apportion those funds that makes a great recruiter. With prize money alone, you can’t advance an event, because you can’t actually guarantee who will show up. That is especially so with the meager purses we offer.
I certainly agree that NYC, Boston, Chicago, London, Berlin and others should be a minimum $1million first prize, and corresponding amounts down to 25th place. In our society the money you earn for an endeavor validates the endeavor.
When the winner of our biggest events publicly wins $150k or less, and tenth place wins all of $1000 for a marathon, the amount tells the world we aren’t serious about how we perceive the value of the effort. Therefore, if we aren’t seen to be taking it seriously, how can we expect the public to? And kids certainly have no wish to grow up and be poor, tired, under-appreciated distance runners.
And don’t tell me about how much money is under-the-table. If it’s out of sight, then it is of no value to the sport, only the individual. And that’s a basic waste of funds.
TF, Toni is correct. You need a combination of appearance, prize and bonus monies to assemble a competitive balanced field. 1 million in prize money would also enhance the media coverage.
Bob & Toni, I agree with you both, and great job! Road Racing (specifically the BIG city marathon events) MUST start having larger prize structures …. and down to 25th place is a good start. What’s your feelings about “special dollars” for American runners and American only prize money races?
32 years and nothing has changed! Appearance fees are BS … Make athletes earn their prize money… But the prize money must increase now and athletes need to be able to wear more sponsorship logos on their bodies!! Why is the NYC M winner not a 500k-1M payday? With the amount of $ NYRR makes!