Admitting error isn’t easy, but it can be cathartic. In light of the strong, some might even say vehement, reaction to its decision last September to precipitously eliminate elite, competitive racing at its Rock `n` Roll events – the announcement came just two weeks before the Rock `n` Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon after appearance-fee agreements had been made — San Diego-based Competitor Group, Inc. announced yesterday that it is reversing course and resurrecting its competitive, elite athlete program in 2014.
“It was obvious it was a bad decision,” said CGI senior vice-president of events Tracy Sundlun. “It wasn’t working. The fact of the matter is the leadership, our executive team, heard from the running community and we listened. (Cutting elite competition) wasn’t who we were, or who we wanted to be. It isn’t what we represented, what the sport should be, and what we should be doing with our partners and friends. So the decision was changed, and I’m just thrilled.”
Here are some of the details of the new CGI elite program …
· The Elite Athlete program in North America will feature the same level of world class fields in the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego and Philadelphia events and Carlsbad 5000 that they have always had.
· U.S. only prize money will be added to Carlsbad for the first time ever, and the event will be broadcast.
· There will be an increased international presence in Montreal.
· There will be guaranteed place-based prize money and additional performance-based prize money at all of CGI events.
· There will be travel funds available for qualified athletes at all of events.
· There will be complimentary entries available to men who have run Sub 2:27:00 for the Marathon and 1:11:00 for the Half, and women who have run sub 2:59:00 for the Marathon and 1:25:00 for the Half. (Half marathon times must have been run in 2013 or later to qualify, and marathon times must have been run in 2012 or later to qualify.)
· In addition to the Age Group Half Marathon Grand Prix involving all 30 of our Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathons and the EDP Lisbon Half Marathon, there will be a Half Marathon Grand Prix for elite U.S. athletes (only) involving all the same events and also culminating in San Antonio where $50,000 will be awarded.
· There will be an expanded ‘Chasing Down The Dream’ program, which will focus on supporting, promoting and rewarding athletes trying to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials with events in at least Las Vegas and San Jose.
· Matt Turnbull (email@example.com) will return as Elite Athlete consultant, focusing his attention on managing the featured events in San Diego, Philadelphia and Carlsbad.
“When added to our IAAF Silver and Gold Level events in Europe (Rock ‘n’ Roll Madrid, EDP Lisbon Half, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Lisbon) and Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin, which is the Irish National Half Marathon Championships, CGI’s cash support of Elite Athletes will be well into 7 figures in 2014!” said Sundlun. “We will look at what works and what doesn’t, and change, tweak, enhance.”
One element of competition that Competitor Group had supported quite diligently, but that got lost in its image shift toward recreation and fun-running was the support of Olympic Trials hopefuls. Now that the larger issue of performance has been addressed, CGI hopes that support will be recognized even as they try to make a deeper impression in 2016.
“I’m sure very few people knew that over 25% of the runners (89 of 348) who qualified for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials qualified at one of our races,” said Sundlun, “and nearly 20% (19.8%) of the first-time qualifiers. Reality and perception were distorted. Carlsbad and Philadelphia have brilliant reputations as athletic events, but did our other events get credit? No. And whose fault was that? Ours! We have had 16 world records and 8 American records run at the Carlsbad 5000, but if you look at all our races, we’ve had 23 world records and something like 16 American records. Subtract Carlsbad, and that’s still a lot of records. ”
After Falconhead Capital bought Elite Racing at the end of 2007, the newly named Competitor Group, Inc. quickly embarked on an expansionist drive, adding events in bunches, both new and acquired, both in the U.S. and more recently overseas. As CGI surged toward a half-million participants, their emphasis strayed from Elite Racing’s original dual purpose of a fully elite front end and a deeply connected mass following. Business boomed, but after last year’s abrupt elimination of its competitive budget, the backlash came fast and landed hard. Today, Sundlun sees CGI’s future delivering for both ends of the speed continuum, and linking the two.
“The only people who will be spending more on elite athletes will be the World Marathon Majors,” Sundlun stated. “Are we going to be New York or Boston? No and no. But let’s at least get credit for what we are doing, and then let’s create the environment to encourage us to do more. But what also became absolutely clear out of the cuts was we all realized that the elite athlete component has to do more than just run fast, and we have to do more to promote it better, too.”
There is no doubt that CGI took a major PR hit for its decision last September. Now a leadership change has taken place, and a new (old) direction re-envisioned. As always, the proof will be in the pudding, but in Tracy Sundlun Competitor Group has a strong advocate for running as both a participation, lifestyle activity, and a robust sporting competition.
“Everyone forgot what we had done in the past,” Tracy said in conclusion. “I just hope the word gets out in a positive way in the same we got trashed on the original decision. But if big, bad private equity, greed, made the decision to pull money from the sport, guess what, private equity has money to spend on the sport, too. So let’s encourage that.”
Seems the dividends for the CGI turnaround have already begun. Today Northern Arizona Elite has announced that Ben Bruce will be making his marathon debut at Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans on February 2.
Bruce has been one of America’s most versatile distance runners for the last several years, having made World Championship teams in track and field (steeplechase), cross country and on the roads (half marathon). He is coming off a personal best in the half marathon, set at last Sunday’s U.S. Championships in Houston, where he ran 1:02:53.
Bruce said he and his wife Stephanie, also a professional distance runner, are excited about CGI’s decision to get back into the professional running world in a big way.
“Steph spoke at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Expo last weekend and was really excited about the conversation she had with Tracy Sundlin [CGI’s senior vice president of events],” Bruce said. “She and I will be headed to New Orleans together and we’ll definitely be on the Expo stage at some point during the weekend.”
Bruce said he would be taking a very conservative approach to the race itself.
“My main goal for the race is to win and get my first experience at the distance,” Bruce said. “Looking ahead to 2016, the marathon will be a focus of mine.”
The Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans course is known for being flat and fast. Last year’s half marathon was won by Great Britain’s double Olympic Champion Mo Farah in 1:00:59. The marathon course record is 2:18:49, set by C Fred Joslyn in 2011.
Northern Arizona Elite is a professional sports organization whose mission is to recruit, develop and produce distance runners to compete at the very highest level of international athletics and operate as a successful business by building a global fan base for the team and its athletes through comprehensive and ongoing marketing efforts on a local, national and international level.