With today’s announcement of the very strong pro women’s field gathering for the 2018 TCS NYC Marathon, another old idea resurfaced in the attempt to help focus attention on the actual racing side of the game.
Just as I recently posited how it might be fun (though impractical) to stage a pure match race between Galen Rupp and his former training partner Mo Farah in Chicago in order to truly focus public attention, I have always thought that the two U.S. Abbott World Marathon Major partners in the fall, Chicago and New York, should work together rather than compete for the same stock of athletes.
Imagine if each event focused on just one gender at the tip of the spear where all the top female athletes go one place, and the best males line up at the other. Then, the following year they swap.
With defending champion Shalane Flanagan heading the list, along with three-time winner and 2017 runner up Mary Keitany, and Boston champ Des Linden, New York 2018 is stacked with many, but not all, of the world’s premier female distance runners. But since marathoning is a numbers game, where one-third has a good day, the middle third an average day, and the final third a poor day, the more elite starters you have, the greater the odds of having several athletes still battling for the win late in the race.
It is the same principle we see play out each week on the PGA Tour. The idea is to overload the field to increase the likelihood of a close competition. The reason golf tournaments go down to the wire every Sunday afternoon is because they begin with a field of 156 on Thursday morning. Yet in the handful of World Golf Championship events that only have 70 starters, we often see runaway wins, simply because there are fewer golfers in play.
With each marathon major recruiting top men and women with a limited budget, the races split the available talent, and to a degree decrease the chances for a close competition in an event where a 1% difference over two hours represents more than a minute of separation.
So when runaways come to pass, average viewers are led to believe running is boring, when in fact the races have thinned their herds just enough where the racing outcomes fail to engage over the entire distance. Yes, New York’s women’s field 2018 is top notch, but what if it could be even better?
What if ALL the best women in the world went to New York, and all the A-level men showed up in Chicago? Wow, the odds would significantly go up that a close race would emerge.
Remember, women weren’t added to these races till the 1970s due to societal norms that the Women’s Movement worked tirelessly to change. But back in the day, athletes like Grete Waitz, Joanie Samuelson and Ingrid Kristiansen would dominate. So it was not considered prudent to focus solely on the women’s side of the race, or even afford them their own separate start. Well, as women’s running improved and fields deepened, a separate start was added to properly showcase their talents.
Today’s crop of women is no longer a lean yield as New York’s field illustrates. In fact, they can easily hold our attention all on their own, especially if every top woman showed up on the same start line.
Okay, don’t get your knickers in a twist. It’s just a throwaway suggestion and besides, we do see close races emerge on occasion using the long-standing current system. Just an old broadcaster having fun.