PRIZE DOLLARS AND SENSE

Monday’s 122nd Boston Marathon was one for the ages.  Epic you might say. I’ve seen local Boston TV hurricane coverage in the past that looked less nasty than the conditions confronting the marathoners this Patriot’s Day. And in its wet, rain-blown aftermath, the stories are beginning to be told.

There’s a Facebook post today by our friend and colleague Jim Gerweck linking to a story about Jessica Chichester, the Broolyn nurse who finished fifth on Monday. another of the improbable top finishers in the women’s race after the conditions wiped out the invited stars. The FB thread debates what to do about the three women who started in Wave one at Monday’s marathon, some 28 minutes behind the ”Elites”, but in the carnage that ensued in the brutal conditions, posted finishing times that placed them “in the money”. 

Former Runners World staffer Parker Morse explained that, “by the rules they didn’t earn it (the prize money) and everyone saying “different race” is correct…

“I think the classy thing to do would be to pay out by the rules first, then make some “special and unusual” awards to those three women. The positive press would probably be worth more than the prize money. I don’t think I’d fault them for not doing that, though.”

I reached out to the B.A.A., and received the following from Mike Pieroni, the B.A.A. Athletic Performance Director:

“The Elite Women’s Start competition was implemented here in 2004 to highlight the head-to-head competition.  Every AWMM event, and other leading prize money races have virtually the same policy as ours.

“From our web-site, and used in individual communications to/from athletes requesting information:
The Boston Marathon includes a separate start for top female competitors. Performances from the Elite Women’s Start (EWS) will be scored separately from women starting in the open field.

“Open and masters division women who consider themselves eligible for prize money in the Boston Marathon must declare themselves as a contestant for the EWS start. They may email ews@baa.org for further details on format, eligibility, regulations, and instructions.

“Race officials can assist in determining which start – EWS or 10:00 a.m. – is most appropriate. Prize money will be awarded to contestants in the EWS only. Women who choose not to start in the EWS waive the right to compete for prize money. Timing and scoring is done by Gun time.”

Well, there you have it, the rule spelled out in full. There was a choice to be made.  And since some of the American women were hoping for an Olympic Trials qualifying time on Monday, sub-2:45, they chose to stay with Wave 1 where there would be a greater mass of runners, thereby helping them make their OT qualifier.

But, at the same time, there is historic precedent for such a “special award”.  Wesley Korir entered the 2008 Chicago Marathon on his own dime, because he couldn’t wrangle an invitation.  The 2007 graduate of the University of Louisville had been a multiple time All-American, finishing seventh at the 2007 NCAA D1 5000.  But with no road credentials to speak of,  he was forced to start with the masses five minutes behind the Elite field. 

2012 Boston Marathon champion Wesley Korir

Korir went on to win the mass race in 2:13:53, which turned out to be the fourth fastest time of the day overall.   

Chicago race director Carey Pinkowski took it all in, and in a gesture that said a lot about the guy, a former athlete himself, he quietly awarded equal fourth place money to Wesley ($15,000), even though, by rule, he didn’t have to.  It wasn’t done with any grand public fanfare, either, just out of a sense of fair’s fair. 

Of course, Wesley Korir went on to have a wonderful professional career, with back-to-back wins in Los Angeles, five more appearances in Chicago, including a 2:06:15 second place in 2011, and a career-defining win in the 2012 Boston Marathon. But Korir was not given a choice where to start in Chicago 2008, like all the women in Monday’s Boston Marathon were.  There’s your main difference.

The puddles are still drying in Boston, spring is still not in full bloom. The sport moves on, as it always does, this coming weekend to London.  Let’s see how things shake out after this most singular day in Boston Marathon history. Perhaps there are still stories to be written.

END