One year ago the big story in the sport was Competitor Group Inc.’s decision to significantly cut its elite athlete program just weeks before the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. Ex-CGI CEO Scott Dickey wrote in this blog at that time: “We will always welcome the elites, we are just not going to spend in excess of 7-figures annually to simply have them show up. It represents a disconnect from the brand and the very promise of participating in a RnR event. We’re going to reinvest those dollars into entertainment, the experience, more staff to execute more flawlessly, and in our continued efforts to increase participation.”
A major backlash arose in the wake of that decision, and by year’s end Mr. Dickey had left Competitor Group while former golf executive David Abales quietly took the reins in early 2014. Now, in the fall of 2014 CGI has not only reversed its direction of a year ago, it has ramped up its overall support for the professional end of the game significantly, returning it to the ranks of major players in the game.
After excellent performances two weeks ago in Philadelphia, including a real battle between Lawi Lalang and Bernard Lagat in a new 5K run the day before the famous half-marathon, this weekend CGI is hosting not one, but two Rock `n` Roll Events that feature top competition.
The first will be the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon Vodafone RTP in Lisbon, Portugal, one of the sports’ most renowned half-marathons (CGI purchased the event in 2012). But CGI has also elevated its second-year sister EDP Rock ‘n’ Roll Lisbon Marathon with a more talented, world-class field, as well.
“We did have a RnR Lisbon Marathon last year,” CGI Senior Vice President of Events Tracy Sundlun told me from Lisbon. “2:09 won it, and it was an IAAF Gold Medal event. But we are taking another step up this year. At CGI there is a recognition and appreciation by the leadership of the importance of all aspects of our sport and our activity. As our CEO David Abeles said, ‘how can we have the greatest events without the greatest athletes?’ But we have to make the front of the pack relevant to every other aspect of the event, as well.”
Not only is Competitor Group headlining world-class sister events in Lisbon, highlighted by Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese, the half-marathon world record holder who ran his 58:23 in Lisbon 2010, but they are also staging the 9th edition of their quick-coursed RnR Half Marathon in San Jose, California on Sunday, along with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Festival San Jose 5k on Saturday.
Since its development in 2006, when Duncan Kibet ran 60:22, San Jose has become a traditional proving ground for late fall marathoners. This year, though, it is also featuring a wide array of top American talent hoping to notch qualifying standards for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon.
“If we are supposed to inspire people to lose weight, travel, and improve their overall health, we also need to laud those trying to achieve greatness,” continued Sundlun. “It is all part of the same continuum which is unique to running. But everything has to be interconnected, nothing can stand on its own. Whether it’s the music along the course, the expo, elites, press, the city, or other participants, it all has to work together.”
Through Tracy Sundlun’s varied background as a coach, executive director of the Metropolitan Athletics Congress (the New York City branch of USATF), co-founder of the National Scholastic Indoor Track and Field Championship, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series at Elite Racing, the top end of the sport has always had a fierce advocate at Competitor Group. But that influence was at a low ebb at the close of 2013. Now, under the leadership of David Abeles, the place for professional racing has once again found its seat at the adult’s table. Though with that seating has also come responsibility.
“The only good thing to come out of that dark period last year was that the athletes, managers and coaches finally understood that to survive and thrive, to be appreciated by the lay public, they need to do more than run fast,” said Sundlun. “And there hasn’t been one athlete or manager that hasn’t embraced that understanding. Yes, in that sense, last year was a wakeup call. Now what I hear is, ‘what else can we do?’
Well, don’t forget to run fast and compete hard.
A number of other stories have come across my desk in recent days.
Jack Wickens, long time healthcare professional, vice-chair of USATF Foundation, founded AthleteBiz in Sept. 2013 as a web platform and program designed to launch entrepreneurial/fund-raising opportunities and fitness role model activations for aspiring Olympic athletes. Today, Jack put up a video produced by Ben Rosario of Northern Arizona Elite, featuring Matt Llano, who is prepping for the Oct. 12th BofA Chicago Marathon. According to Ben, Matt is shooting for a 2:10 in his debut in Chicago.