Well, so much for sticking my head inside the lion’s mouth outside the Chicago Art Museum.
I’m getting hammered pretty badly across different fora and websites for my last blog post suggesting that the Chicago Marathon ditch its deep elite men’s field for a match race between defending champion Galen Rupp of the United States and his former Nike Oregon Project teammate Mo Farah of England.
OK, I get it, bad idea. And I even understand why. Sorry. At least I spurred a little extra interest in the race.
Just for the record, though, I don’t hate Chicago, and it’s not that I’m a Boston guy, either. I just want the sport to grow because I have invested my own forty-year career in his behalf and see the consistent slide in interest in the game, even as the participation model has begun to give way over the last three years as well. So I suggested a wild outlier to see if it might grab a little extra attention like Nike’s Breaking2 Project did last year.
I should have known better. The six Abbott World Marathon Majors have a proven track record and an established format. They aren’t the events that are having trouble attracting entrants or attention anyway. At the same time, it’s not that a match race is such a horrible idea, it’s just that it shouldn’t be conducted at one of the majors. It should be a separate promotion like Breaking2.
How about this, several people have remarked on the 2010 Chicago Marathon as the most exciting in recent memory. That year, too, they had a loaded men’s field, but the race boiled down to a two–man duel over the final 5 km between 2008 Olympic gold medalist Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya and 2010 London Marathon winner Tsegay Kebede of Ethiopia.
But what made that final 3 miles so compelling was that the winner of that year’s Chicago Marathon was going to emerge as the World Marathon Majors champion for that cycle as well, and collect the $500,000 in bonus money. It was the money that heightened the interest, not the Chicago win, or that it was those two particular guys racing. Stakes matter.
So instead of recommending a match race at 2:04 pace between two preselected runners, how about we just hope that two (or more) of the aces invited by Mr. Pinkowski in 2018 go shoulder to shoulder with the same gusto as did Sammy and Tsegay in 2010?
Chicago. It’s a great town with a great marathon, and a race director who has devoted his own career to making it so.
I’ll just remove my head from the lion’s mouth now, and shut the F up for a while and root along with the rest of you come October 7.