Tag: Boston Athletic Association

PROFESSIONALIZING THE GAME

Ever wonder why average runners have to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but the elite runners don’t?

Well, for one thing, there is a competitive marketplace for the top athletes and invitations with appearance fees are the means of recruiting them. It’s a holdover from the sport’s shamateur (sic) past but one that has proven resilient to change, despite the introduction of prize money purses in the 1980s.

We have just gone through a small tempest at this year’s Boston Marathon after the Boston Athletic Association separated the “invited” men’s field from the Wave 1 runners for the first time – by two minutes – thereby bringing the invited men’s field into line with the elite women who have started 28-minutes ahead of the men for the last 15 years.

Depending on how you view the sport, this is either a welcomed and needed change or a travesty. Highly regarded scribe Jonathan Beverly in Podium Runner holds to the latter, calling the new separation policy “puzzling” and contrary to the spirit of the sport.

“It’s a seemingly minor change,” writes Beverly, “one that will economically affect only a few sub-elites who might have a breakthrough day. But it ensures that an anonymous runner will never stand on the podium, putting to rest the notion that we’re all competing together in the same race—a notion that is arguably one of the greatest aspects of our sport. Now, if you’re not one of the few pre-selected to be in the first start, you are, quite explicitly, running in a different competition.”

Jonathan has it exactly right except for the notion that we’re all competing together in the same race where the average Doheny is theoretically competing against the best in the world.  That has always been a misnomer. The thousands of citizen runners don’t run against or with the pros, they run concurrently.  Only a historic weather event like we had in Boston 2018 can wipe enough pros from the field that one or two “regular” runners can end up in the prize money positions from the mass field.

The example Jonathan gave of an uninvited runner winning the March 17th New York City Half Marathon missed the point that Ethiopian Belay Tilahun may not have been invited, but he was definitely elite.

Besides, Boston already makes a distinction between charity joggers, recreational runners, and Boston Qualifiers. That, among other things, is what makes Boston special.  But until the sport, in general, makes that same distinction between BQs and professional-class runners, we are going to have this amorphous amalgam that the public  doesn’t understand much less take seriously as a sporting event. Instead, they view even major marathons as more like, you know, the Pope’s visit, or the tall ships sailing into Boston harbor, primarily a big civic event. (more…)

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HEADING BACK TO BEEF STEW?

What is it with money in this game?  While purses and contracts in every other sport have continued to grow well into seven figures, in this fish market the scale has either remained stagnant or just gone down.

For their Series XI, which began in London last weekend, the Abbott World Marathon Majors announced a drop in its top prize from half a mill to a quarter mill, while thumping a new charity component that outstrips the top athletic prize by thirty grand, $280k to $250k. Yet can you blame them?

What would you do if international diversity completely disappeared from the top end of your sport, or if half your women’s series champions turned up doped – then didn’t give the money back, so you had to pay out twice?  Not to mention all the negative PR that comes with the news. Not quite the idea you had in mind a decade ago when you began the series, then, is it?

And just today we read that the Abbott World Marathon Majors has announced a ten-year strategic partnership deal with Wanda Group in China to develop marathoning in Asia (outside Japan) and Africa with the emphasis on participation, charity fundraising, and economic impact.

“The World Marathon Majors Series was founded in 2006 to advance the sport of marathon running and to honor the world’s best male and female runners and wheelchair athletes,” read the press release. “Now, every year, more than 250,000 runners participate in the AbbottWMM races worldwide, raising nearly $150 million annually for good causes, and the Series celebrates its Six Star finishers, runners who have successfully completed all six races in the Series. Additionally, Abbott WMM is a world leader in anti-doping initiatives, financing the biggest private-funded drug testing program in sport.”

Notice the order of focus and intention. Sport is still involved, yes, but now it is last in line and focused on doping, no longer the centerpiece of the enterprise.

But that aside, why is the money in this sport still organized the way it is in the first place? Because for some odd reason we can’t shuck our amateur past where the illusion fostered was that there was no money at all, while the reality was there was no ‘visible’ money? (more…)

JOCK SEMPLE – BOSTON’S HEART & SOUL

Jock in his Salon de Rubdown in the old Boston Garden

To say that his office was tucked away in the labyrinth of the old Boston Garden is to understate the quest to find it. Yet to say that his office was the heart of the Boston Marathon would not be to overstate its importance.

Jock Semple’s Salon de Rubdown had been upstairs, past the gauntlet of the North Station bottle-in-bag regulars, and down the hall from the offices of the Boston Celtics for more years than most can recall, and to more thousands than chose to remember where the workhorse of the Boston Marathon was stabled.

“Well, I’ve been a willing workhorse, so it’s OK,” said Jock of 80 years in 1984, a step slower if no less zeroed in on the task at hand.

Just the month before he worked with the Scottish team as they competed in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in New Jersey.  That was in March. I visited his office in early April as the Marathon neared. (more…)

CROWD CHAOS AT TOUR DE FRANCE

Wild times on Mont Ventoux
Wild times on Mont Ventoux

“There’s no way to control a crowd like that if they don’t want to be controlled,” said former Boston Marathon race director Will Cloney after huge throngs on Heartbreak Hill forced runners into a single file as they climbed the iconic rise. The narrowed channel made for great excitement, great theater, but also dangerous racing conditions as it was all but impossible to pass anyone in the bedlam.

Accordingly, the Boston Athletic Association soon installed rope lines and finally snow fencing and barriers all along Heartbreak Hill and other crowded sections of the course to keep the crowds at bay in the name of race safety. 

THE OLYMPICS: SUPER BOWL OR PRO BOWL?

Steph Curry skips Olympics
NBA MVP Curry opts out of Olympic tourney

It’s not like USA Basketball will miss a beat without him, but when two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors announced that he was going to skip the Rio Olympics to rest a sore knee, it just reinforced the belief that for many professional athletes the Olympics are more like the Pro Bowl than the Super Bowl, a nice consolation for the guys who don’t make it to the Big Dance.  The only athletes who rely on the Olympics are the ones in track & field, swimming, gymnastics, boxing, wrestling, etc.  And for track athletes, at least, the irony is that they have to cover up what little sponsorship they do have when the world is finally watching.

It is kind of crazy, right?  So how’s this for a counter-intuitive “do the opposite” consideration?

Because the Olympics only comes around once every four years, and then so completely dwarf the non-Olympic year competitions in running, rather than help build up the sport, the Games actually restrict interest to their very small window.  Thus, as long as the Olympics remain at the top of running’s mountain, the sport will never experience new growth, leaving athletes with no voice, much less a financial interest in the biggest competition that defines their careers.

(more…)

BAA ANOUNCES PLANS FOR MARATHON TRIBUTE

BostonStrong     Everyone knows it will be a special year at the 2014 Boston Marathon, as the grand old race and its host city commemorate last year’s tragic bombings.  There is no getting around the centrality of that tragedy, nor will there be for years to come, though I suspect everyone is of two minds about it, as well.  Truly, it is a no-win situation.  Too much emphasis just validates the cruel act in the first place, too little attention and we fail to honor the injured and fallen, or to show proper resolve in the face of the cowardly attack.

Of course the marathon world is a bottomless pit of resolve, and today the BAA announced its plan for an official tribute to mark the one year anniversary.  But due to the constantly moving third Monday of April Patriot’s Day race date, there will be a nearly one week cushion between the actual anniversary of the bombing and the 2014 race.

“I think we’ve caught a huge break with the race being so late this year,” said one media partner.  “There will be an Anniversary observance on the 15th, and then hopefully we can move into race mode leading up to the 21st.   Clearly, the topic can’t be avoided — but the goal is to focus on that race and that day.   Hopefully the events of the prior week will make it easier to do that.”

The event’s official (magazine) program will also reflect the unique nature of this year’s event, and “the BAA is changing its content somewhat for this year’s program,”  said its editor. Below is today’s BAA announcement in full. (more…)

TERRENCE MAHON JOINS BAA AS HIGH PERFORMANCE COACH

Coach Terrence Mahon
Coach Terrence Mahon

The Boston Athletic Association announced today that Terrence Mahon, former head coach of the Mammoth Track Club and for the last year the head endurance coach for British Athletics, has been hired to lead and coach a high performance distance running initiative for the organization.

“This has been in the works for a while,” BAA executive director Tom Grilk told me this afternoon.  “We have wanted to get a high performance coach; we’ve been looking around for good people to work with around several fronts.  But we got slowed down by what happened at the marathon this year (the terrorist bombings). Terrence was one of the people we asked if he was interested.”

“Since I got here (January 2011) we’ve talked about the mission of the BAA going back to its beginnings. The mission has always been to promote health and fitness by 1) putting on events, which is what everyone sees; 2) developing community support for kids and adults alike; and 3) the development of excellent athletes.

“Remember, the majority of the 1896 U.S. Olympic team was BAA guys.  So this is just another way of us getting back to the original mission.  We got lost a little along the way, but this (hiring) is a good way to hit the third part of our mission.” (more…)