I wrote an article for the Boston Marathon official program about the marathon’s historically early registration closing, and the options available to the B.A.A. for tinkering with their entry process. Now that the marathon is over and the paying customers have their copies, I’ll archive a copy here.
Archive for the ‘money’ Category
Last fall, I wrote a piece for New England Runner about the changing face of transponder (aka “chip”) timing, where long-dominant ChampionChip was seeing a new wave of competition from lighter, cheaper, and sometimes “disposable” new technology.
Even since publication, however, the chip world has moved on from the state of last fall. I’m told that ChampionChip is nearly out of the picture (you’ll still see them around, as timing companies which own ChampionChip equipment will keep using it) and the disposable chips are dominating. I haven’t heard if the waste issues raised by the disposables have been addressed, nor do I know if the “holy grail” of chip timing, a transponder which can be embedded in the bib number and worn without any extra work from the runner, is any closer.
With that said, here’s where things stood last September. This is as I submitted it, not as it eventually ran, so there may be errors and issues; bear in mind that “this year” means 2008. Hyperlinks, rather than coming up in the text, are all provided at the end of the story.
A few years ago I started in a new business venture. (For those who don’t know me outside of running, my “day job” is as a web programmer, building websites for a company I co-founded. Yes, I’m aware this site isn’t a great representation of our work, but when we’re busy our own sites come in last on the priority scale.) In that entrepreneurial role, I started reading weblogs of a few other start-ups, just to see what’s going on out there.
That was how I found Atayne (pronounced “Attain”), through the blog of its founder. They bill their products as “performance with a point of view,” and that point of view is that you can have quality, performance running gear made with renewable resources and non-toxic materials.
A shirt made from recycled bottles and coconut husks might not sound like such a great idea, but I have one now (thanks to my brother, who got me one for Christmas) and it’s actually awesome. It’s as comfortable (maybe more) as any other performance top I own (and I’ve had quite a few), and it looks pretty sharp, too.
Times are tough out there for struggling start-ups, but in the name of never letting a good crisis go to waste, I think that makes it all the more important that we put our consumer dollars behind companies with values that match our own. Like it or not, in the marketplace, money is speech, and it’s worthwhile to consider what our spending is saying. The great part about buying Atayne apparel is that not only is it ecologically responsible, you don’t have to compromise on price or quality to do it.
I don’t know the Atayne people, and they don’t know me. But I think they’re doing good work, and I think they deserve the support of the running community.
I’ve promised a few times to post the text of the story I wrote for the Boston Marathon program. With the marathon over and all the programs distributed, here’s the text. (Note that I’ve started with the copy I submitted, and may have missed some of the edits made between submission and publication. Also note that the copy deadline, in early March, meant that some of the details here are obsolete; the discussion about the 2012 Trials has progressed since the time of writing.)
Headline: Red, white, & blueprint
Subhead: When it came to staging the Olympic Trials, Boston put on a clinic
In 2008, the organizers of the Boston Marathon added something to the weekend program they had never tried before: another marathon.
The day before 35,000 runners made their way from Hopkinton to Boston, 150 women lined up for the 2008 Olympic Team Trials–Women’s Marathon. The first three finishers would represent the US and run the Olympic Marathon in Beijing in August. The race started in front of the Hynes Convention Center and, after a short loop around Beacon Hill, ran four laps of a 10-km loop which crossed over the Charles River on the Massachusetts Avenue bridge (and featured long segments on Memorial Drive in Cambridge) before returning to Boston. The finish line was the same as that for the traditional Patriots’ Day event.
“I never anticipated what it would be like to come down Boylston Street,” says Blake Russell, “with the church bells ringing and the crowd yelling like thunder.” Russell, who is coached by longtime Boston-area coach Bob Sevene and lived in the area for years before following Sevene to California, finished third in 2:32:40 and went on to place 27th in 2:33:13 in Beijing.
“Everyone was trying to out-yell the person next to them,” says Deena Kastor of Mammoth Lakes, CA, who won a bronze medal in the 2004 Athens Olympic Marathon and won the 2008 Trials in 2:29:35.
“We put those women on a whole different stage,” says Dave McGillivray, race director for both marathons.
Everyone has mentioned, in their Boston roundups (including mine) how the women’s winning time was the slowest since 1985.
Everyone mentioned in their previews that no American (male or female) has won the Boston marathon since 1985.
Nobody has mentioned that 1986 was the first year that the Boston Marathon awarded prize money.
I do not think these things are unrelated.
In the wake of last month’s World Cross Country Championships, held this year in Amman, Jordan, I’ve seen several different articles asking the question, “Whatever happened to World Cross?” (And, as usual, I’m late to the party.) Pat Butcher sums up the question best: World Cross used to be (ca. late 1970s, early 1980s) the single best distance-running event on the annual calendar. Now it’s not. Why?
Butcher (and, in a follow-up, Larry Eder) goes on to suggest a number of factors: Increased competition for attention and top athletes from spring marathons. Domination by East Africans (and the East Africans are aware that this is a problem, but like the lobstermen in my home town, they can’t figure out how to save their industry without also cutting off their own livelihood) (see also here and here). The loss of strong individual English-speaking personalities. The overall worldwide decline of the sport. IAAF mismanagement. (The specific form of this mismanagement is not detailed, but in this case simply failing to find the magic solution might count.) There is even a nod to my colleague Steven Downes’ argument that golf-course-like venues (“10,000m with one hill”) have had the unintended consequence of removing some unpredictability from the event’s results.
Despite my age, I have a lot of sympathy for World Cross nostalgia. As a budding track fan, my first brush with international competition was the last World Cross Country Championships held in North America, when Boston’s Franklin Park hosted the event in 1992. Every athletics fan remembers that year, even if, like myself, they weren’t actually there (my older brother was). Lynn Jennings won her third consecutive championship; John Ngugi won his fifth in astoundingly dominating fashion. The junior races included a entrants like Paula Radcliffe (who won her first international title) and Haile Gebrselassie. Runner’s World ran at least four pages of photos afterward. Yes, in print. Professionally, my post-runnersworld.com return to international events was at the 2006 World Cross in Fukuoka, Japan. (It was also my first visit to Asia.)
But I wonder if maybe the nostalgia isn’t making us ask the wrong question. Perhaps the question isn’t, “What happened to World Cross?” but “How has the world changed since World Cross was at its height?” Look, for example, at this year’s venue: Jordan wants to become an international sports destination, and World Cross is a sort of starter event for them. Leave aside what that idea (and the Times) implies about the event’s status and consider the changing global landscape. Of course World Cross isn’t what it used to be; the world isn’t what it used to be, and the athletics landscape no longer centers around Europe. That kind of change is going to create casualties, and World-Cross-as-it-was is one of those casualties.
Looked at this way, one can still blame the IAAF for not finding the magic formula to maintaining at least the appeal and importance of the event, if not the same face of it. But at least they’ve been trying. To see the bin World Cross might otherwise be headed for, look up the history of the International Peace Marathon in Kosice, Slovakia, which once rubbed shoulders with Fukuoka and Boston as one of the preeminent international marathons.
If we stop asking, “How can we make World Cross what it was?” and ask the harder question, “What should World Cross be in today’s athletics world?” we’re going to get a lot closer to a great event.
I’m spending most of my time on a pair of projects with short deadlines right now, but I wonder if many people read both Conway Hill’s anonymous open letter to Doug Logan, and my colleague Steven Downes’ post for Britain’s Sports Journalists Association, “The rate for the job: how cuts hit freelances“.
While it’s obvious that the second link was written by a professional writer and the first… wasn’t, they both have a common theme: skilled professionals hoping to make a living from their craft feel their work is not appropriately valued. The anonymous author of Hill’s letter argues, with some justification, that “elite” athletes are the engine from which all revenue in the sport springs, and that USATF’s structure loads the weight of any number of programs not directly related to professional athletics as drag on this engine. (There’s some merit to this argument: does the NBA carry the burden of grass-roots basketball development?)
I am less of a professional than any of the journalists Downes cites in his argument, but as such I’m an example of his argument: if newspapers, magazines, etc. were paying a better rate for more professional coverage, I’d be doing a lot less paid writing and a lot more rambling online for nothing. (I am the Wal-Mart of athletics writing, except without the market share or massive profits.) Instead we’re pinching reporters with decades of experience. (Granted, the papers themselves are taking a beating financially, but one wonders if compromised quality may have something to do with that.)
The bottom line is this: paychecks are more than tokens. They also represent a value placed on the recipient’s work, and if they see that work as valueless, they’re likely to produce lower-value work–or simply quit and find something else to do.
Since posting my own analysis of USATF’s Project 30 report, I’ve had the chance to discuss the report with a few other people whose opinions I respect. Two of them independently raised a question I hadn’t considered. A significant amount of the report makes sense only after accepting the idea that winning Olympic medals is the ultimate raison d’etre for USATF. I noted this assumption and moved on, but not everyone accepted it so easily. Does this motivation come from the USOC and/or the USATF charter? (Probably.) Is it the right way to be approaching the sport? Good question. It leaves out questions of participation, public health, integrity (it’s tricky to balance an overriding imperative to win medals with an anti-doping message) and even sponsorship.
Refining that last question: assume that Project 30’s goal is to maintain USATF’s future. This requires sponsorship and broadcast rights agreements, both of USATF and USOC. What will bring more sponsors to both organizations? Do sponsors chase the prestige which is assumed to come from winning lots of medals? Or do they follow consumer attention, which may or may not be predicated on winning a lot of medals?
Or is this a national pride issue? I’m sure there’s been some academic research on this point.
It’s a credit to the panel and their secretary that the report’s conclusions seem almost inevitable given their research. The important part of the report, I came to understand, is how it gives CEO Doug Logan an agenda, even a mandate, for change, without making that agenda part of his personality. (I suppose this is the role management consultants play when it’s time to fire people in big corporations.)
I hope it works; I’d like to see the relay impediments removed so we can see USA vs. Jamaica in both 4×100m relays in Berlin this summer. I’d also like to hope that USATF’s political sinkholes can be avoided, because they’re part of the problem.
Favorite part of this piece: I’ve been running low on sleep, and when I was reading the report at some point the only way I could come up with to describe the more wishful-thinking-heavy parts of the report was, “I want a pony.” It’s only a fraction of the report, but they’re so pitch-perfect for most of it that the unlikely parts look that much odder in context.
I really recommend that anyone sincerely interested in the future of the sport read the whole report. The background material, in particular, is an education.
I’m proud of them, I suppose, but I needed to read the whole release to figure out what the original bonus purse eligibility had been.
One of the common themes when carping about distance running’s relatively low profile in the American sports landscape is that Running Needs a Circuit. Or a league, or a tour, or something to compare with NASCAR or the PGA Tour or the NBA. All kinds of formats get proposed, but none of them ever happen, mostly because road races are independent organizations with no real national governance, and none of the formats offer the races much to make up for the degree of autonomy they would have to give up. Beyond that, distance running puts strains on athletes not found in car racing or golf; few runners are capable of racing at a high level for several weekends in a row.
The other reason they never happen is because two road racing circuits already exist, and very few people care.
When I was working at Runner’s World, there was a reader survey done which revealed that more Runner’s World readers claimed to read Running Times as well than Running Times claimed to have readers. This was probably due to sampling error (or, by now, my faulty memory) but it suggested to us that RW and RT had close to total audience duplication. The question was asked, “Should we just buy them and absorb them?” That idea was rejected, finally, because as long as RT existed, but remained relatively small, it was a disincentive for others to enter the running magazine business. After all, RT was trying to compete with RW already; surely there wasn’t much room left in the market, right? (Of course, RW did buy RT less than ten years later, but under different leadership with different ideas.)
This thinking was pretty attractive, but it relies on a leap of logic – that RT not winning significant market share from RW meant that competing in the running-magazine market would be an uphill fight – which isn’t necessarily true. RT’s existence only proved that there was limited room to compete with RW in the way RT was trying to compete. The question to ask of new running magazines was not, “Why do you think there’s a market for a new running magazine,” but “What are you doing which will give you a greater share of the market than RT has?”
So I’m not inclined to dismiss new running circuit ideas out of hand. But I do suggest that reasonable skepticism be applied, specifically this question: Why is this circuit going to be a greater success than the PRRO and USARC put together?
Neither of these circuits is a failure; if they were, they wouldn’t have survived as long as they have. However, they both have limited definitions of success. USARC is run by USATF and is essentially a circuit of national championship road races. As such, it focuses exclusively on American athletes. There is a point system for placing at series races, double points are awarded for the marathon championship, and the athlete with the most points at the end of the circuit wins an extra check, $6,000 in 2008. There are lesser checks for second and third. I’d be surprised to learn that any athlete earned more from the USARC itself than from prize money in the races necessary to win the USARC check, but it’s also worth noting that the athlete’s sponsorship contract may match all these winnings.
The PRRO may have been the incentive for the USARC. If you can think of a big road race, probably in the spring or summer, with a large field and about ten Kenyans in the lead, it’s probably a PRRO race. Boilermaker, Peachtree, Cherry Blossom, and Bloomsday, plus the World’s Best 10K in Puerto Rico, were the PRRO races in 2008. The PRRO offers a “bonus purse” (eligibility for which is the subject of the press release mentioned above) of $35,000, significantly higher than the USARC. However, the PRRO bonus has been won by runners from East Africa so consistently in the last two decades that relatively few people in the USA (probably fewer than a thousand) know or care who won last year. Aside from the size of the prize purse, the major division between the PRRO and USARC is that the former is all-comers, and the latter is for Americans only.
Now that I’ve laid out the pitfalls of the existing systems (which, I should add, work just fine for their own purposes,) we need to ask those who propose new circuits or schemes for team competition: why is this going to be more exciting and more involving than USARC and PRRO?