Davenport, Iowa – The 39th Quad City Times Bix 7 Road Race goes off tomorrow, one of the summer’s top races on the U.S. road tour. Preparing for KWQC-TVs live broadcast (coverage begins at 7 a.m. central time, the race starts at 8 a.m.), I called agent Brendan Reilly (Boulder Wave, Inc.) for an update on his athlete Diane Nukuri-Johnson, winner of the Bay to Breakers 12K in San Francisco and one of the favorites in the Bix7 women’s race. Soon, however, our talk turned to this week’s news that Athletics Kenya has once again taken a hard line with its athletes in preparation for the upcoming IAAF World Championships in Moscow where Reilly’s client Edna Kiplagat of Kenya will be defending her 2011 world title in the women’s marathon.
As has been reported, Kenyan athletes originally scheduled to compete in today and tomorrow’s Diamond League meeting in London have been withheld by order of their federation — “London is too close to Moscow and this may burn out our athletes,” Athletics Kenya president Isaiah Kiplagat told Reuters.
This decision comes in the wake of Kenya’s poor showing at last year’s London Olympic Games — they aimed for 12 gold medals, but returned home with only two – David Rudisha in the 800m, and Ezikiel Kemboi in the 3000m steeplechase. AK came away feeling their athletes had over-raced ahead of time. Immediately following the Games the federation decreed that any Kenyan marathoner eligible for a position on the 2016 Rio Olympic Marathon squad will not be allowed to participate in a spring marathon before the Rio Games. These decisions have not been well received within the agent fraternity, and Brendan Reilly, for one, feels his profession is getting something of a bum rap.
“Do you want to have these decisions left to people who work with the athletes 24/7 or to the federations?” asked Reilly rhetorically. “Who knows better how to train them, their everyday coaches or the federations? Agents realize the benefits of a world title. We’re not going to screw that up for a few thousand dollars in some European meet. Yes, there are some unsavory agents, but guys like Ricky Sims, (Federico) Rosa, Ray (Flynn), the top agents all look out for the long-term interest of their clients. Plus, you look at all the women’s marathon gold medalists from 1984 to 2012, and except for one, every one of them ran a spring marathon. So this policy is just pulled from thin air without ever checking the facts.”
As further evidence Brendan recalled how the Romanian federation said they didn’t want any of their athletes running road races one month before the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki. But six days out from the Bix 7 here in Iowa, Constantina Dita felt like she needed another race in her legs before the World Champs marathon. Against federation wishes she went to the Bix, didn’t run particularly well, but then went out and won the bronze medal in Helsinki. It was her first marathon medal. According to Reilly she didn’t go to Bix for fiscal reasons, she went for physical reasons.
It’s a little like the PGA saying they didn’t want Phil Michelson playing the Scottish Open the week before the British Open because they felt Phil might be compromising his chances in Muirfield. But Michelson didn’t play the Scottish Open for the prize money (especially with the amount of taxes they took out). Instead he went to work on playing a links style golf course.
KEINO WEIGHS IN
Following Athletic Kenya’s London Diamond League call, this week the father of Kenyan running, Kipchoge Keino, expressed his own displeasure that a number of Kenya’s best marathoners would be skipping Moscow even though they would seem perfectly fit to race. Keino, like AK prez Isaiah Kiplagat, pointed to the athletes’ agents, in part, for being greedy, which also didn’t sit well with Reilly.
“You want to put on a World Championship Marathon, but you start the races at 2 p.m. (women) and 3:30 p.m. (men) in August on a crap course that’s like a glorified time trial?” asked Reilly as he warmed to the conversation. “5K up and down the Moscow River six times, and this is the best you can do for the sport? There are no real hills or turns to use to try to escape the competition. They just compress 42 kilometers into a four mile area so they can pack the crowds and make them look big. Edna (Kiplagat) will be going to defend her title, but why don’t you step up and put on a world-class event?”
Reilly also managed 2009 World Champs Marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki of Japan as well as 2008 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Constantina Dita of Romania. He has lived and studied in Japan, and speaks the language fluently.
“I’m 99% certain Tokyo Broadcasting is dictating the time schedule of the two marathons,” he continued. “They are paying to be an IAAF sponsor, and I’m not sure the World Champs are important to Tokyo Broadcasting for anything outside the marathon. So you can bet they want those races to be shown in prime time back home.“
The women’s marathon in Moscow is scheduled for 2 p.m. local time on Saturday August 10th, while the men’s race goes off Sunday the 17th at 3:30. Japan is five hours ahead, meaning the two races fall conveniently within the primetime viewing window in Tokyo. Television influencing major event schedules is nothing new, as American football and basketball fans are well aware. In 2008 NBC lobbied to change the Beijing Olympic schedule to highlight swimmer Michael Phelps and women’s gymnastics, swapping track & field out of the U.S. primetime window to do so.
Furthermore, in response to Keino’s accusation of agent and athlete greed, Brendan was quick to point out that with only $60,000 in first-prize money in Moscow, any top-ranked marathoner would be sacrificing a significant amount of appearance, prize, and bonus money at a major big-city fall marathon to run the World Champs — notwithstanding the shoe company bonuses and prestige that a world title would confer. But since the Japanese runners all come from corporate-sponsored teams, “$60,000 is so far below the radar for them”, said Brendan, “that the prize money doesn’t affect them like it does other nations’ athletes.”
Ask yourself, when was the last time America sent its best runners to the World Champs Marathon?
And yet, “In the women’s marathon (in Moscow) we go in confident that Edna can get a medal,” Reilly concluded. “She’s done the preparation, studied the course, and has only had one bad race in five years (last year at London Games). Plus, (husband) Gilbert knows how to prepare her.“
Along with Edna’s marathon gold the Kenyan team did marvelously in Daegu, South Korea at the 2011 World Championships without any restrictions ahead of time (17 medals, including seven gold). But in Moscow only three of those gold medalists from Daegu – Asbel Kiprop in the 1,500, Kiplagat in the women’s marathon, and men’s 3,000 steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi – will defend their titles. As always, only time will tell how much love there will be found in Russia 2013.