It’s a completely defensible position because it has been taken from a completely defensive posture. If your product can’t be guaranteed for purity, even with new and improved testing, you do what you must to mitigate the potential downside while still maintaining brand growth and awareness.
Today, (December 19, 2017) on the same day that twice-banned U.S. sprint star Justin Gatlin was tangentially implicated in an investigative drug sting, Abbott World Marathon Majors announced that Edna Kiplagat of Kenya has been awarded its Series X women’s championship and the $500,000 prize that attends it.
Ms. Kiplagat had originally finished second in the Series X cycle to fellow Kenyan Jemima Sumgong, the 2016 London and Rio Olympic champion. But after the putative champion gave a positive sample for EPO in an out-of-competition test in February 2017, the series title was held up awaiting disposition by Kenyan doping authorities. Today, Ms. Kiplagat, runner up in Chicago 2016 and winner at the Series X closing 2017 Boston Marathon, was officially moved into the top spot as Ms. Sumgong was banned for four years by the Anti Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK).
Ms. Sumgong’s drug failure marked the fourth time in its ten-cycle history that the Abbott World Marathon Majors has had to disqualify a women’s series winner for a failed a drug test, not the outcome the original five series events had imagined when they banded together in 2006.
Russia’s Lilya Shobukhova lost Series IV and V after a doping violation in April 2014 annulled all her results from 9 October 2009 onward. Edna Kiplagat was awarded her first AWMM series title (V) in the aftermath. Then, Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo captured four AWMM race wins in the 2013/2014 series VIII cycle, but failed an out-of-competition test in September 2014, thereby forfeiting that title, which again followed to Ms. Kiplagat.
Now, former Jeptoo training partner Sumgong has officially been stripped of the Series X title, with Kiplagat picking up the pieces for a third time.
Remember the old saw, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me?’ How about ‘Fool me four times’? As Homey D. Clown might once have said, “I don’t think so!”
Though Ms. Kiplagat will receive the $500,000 Series X first prize, she will also be the final athlete to ever be awarded that amount. Beginning with the current Series XI, which began in London this April, the first prize will be halved to $250,000, while prizes for second ($50,000) and third places ($25,000) have been added along with a charity contribution ($280,000) that is greater than any of the athletic prizes.
Athletes can’t soil event results over and over again and not expect there to be consequences. We live, we learn, we run. Spread the risk, reassess the needs. Events everywhere are cutting back on elite fields.
When the World Marathon Majors circuit first came out, the press was all over it. But over time, interest in the series dwindled to the point where it wasn’t even mentioned on the 2017 New York City Marathon TV broadcast. But how could it be with the Series X women’s title still being litigated? Not quite the story you want to be telling.
What’s more, on Nov. 15, 2017, the Abbott World Marathon Majors and its new strategic partner, Dalian Wanda Group, announced the creation of a global age-group marathon ranking system and age-group world championships.
The new AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Rankings will launch in September 2018 and the top-ranked age group athletes will qualify to participate in the AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Championships in the spring of 2020. The rankings will cover age groups for men and women from age 40 to 80+. The site of the World Championship has yet to be named.
Taken together, these moves to reduce the top athletic prize for the elites, while building an age-group component fundamentally alter the scope and trajectory of an organization originally conceived to focus increased attention on elite athletic performance.
The message is clear, even if the intention says otherwise. Elite athletics has less value than it once did. Or, elite athletes can’t be trusted or easily promoted. Name another sport that institutes a series prize and eleven years later declares an “expansion” that cuts its first prize by half?
Imagine the PGA Tour cutting the FedEx Cup first prize of $10 million in half while instituting a World Championship for weekend seniors. BTW, the FedEx Cup is also is in its 11th year.
How else to read the AWMM redistribution plan than as a lack of trust in the integrity of the athletic pool, or a corresponding low Return on Investment (ROI) in terms of star quality?
It’s funny (in a not so humorous way), but this move away from elite athletes is a pattern we have seen repeated a number of times over the years in this sport.
In the early 1980s, the top road runners in the world attempted to drive their sport away from the hypocrisy of amateurism toward open professionalism. They did so by instituting the Association of Road Race Athletes (ARRA) series in 1981. Then in 1999, Allan Steinfeld, president of the New York Road Runners and the New York City Marathon, along with a number of other leading road race events, began Running USA by funding Team USA California in Mammoth Lakes, an effort to reanimate American distance running at the international level after a decade of decline.
In both instances, ARRA and Running USA, the original intent of promoting and rewarding the professionalization of running at the elite level soon morphed into trade industry collectives that only marginally addressed the elite athletics side of the game. Now, here at the end of 2017, Abbott World Marathon Majors is following a similar devolution.
Can you blame them?