Thursday, April 21, 2011

Boston Record Certification Request Too Late


The results of the Boston Marathon are in, and tremendous results they were with Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02, KEN) and Moses Mosop (2:03:06, KEN) running the two fastest times ever! Two others ran under 2:05:00, with Ryan Hall’s 2:04:58 the fastest ever run by an American. Of course the other news coming out of Boston is that the winning mark does not qualify as a world record due to the configuration of the course – point to point course with a primarily downhill slope (in spite of the dreaded “hills”). This is in contrast to more flattened courses that are “loops”.

Now, in a race that covers a bit over 26 miles do these things matter? Well the IAAF believes they do, and I do too. The first reason is fairly obvious – running “downhill” is more of an advantage than running on a flat track. Especially as one begins to tire. The other may not be as obvious – the potential of wind assistance. To compare to the smaller 400 meter oval track, races on the straight have wind limits while those that circle the track do not. Why? Because as you go around the track any assistance you get on the “windy” side is negated when you have to run into that same wind on the opposite side. On the straight it’s just all assistance!

The same applies to the much longer marathon. When running a “loop” course, any steady winds that aid on one side of the loop are negated when running into them on the opposite side of the loop. On a “point to point” course one can take advantage of favoring winds for miles – as was the case in Monday’s race.

The conditions for qualifying for records has been well known to those conducting the Boston race. The Boston Marathon has been run for over 100 years, and they have been well aware of the rules. IF they ever had any intention of having a World Record set, they have had more than ample time to do one of two things: a) change the course to a loop, or b) have the IAAF reconsider the stipulations for record consideration for marathons.

They have done neither! Which tell me two things. One is that they obviously like their course the way it is – and a beautiful course it is. And two, they obviously felt that they would never be in the position of having a record set. After all, since 2000 the average winner at Boston ran in the 2:10:00 range and until 2010 the course record was only 2:07:14.

That, however, is NOT a reason not to ensure that your course (or facility in the case of a track) is ready for record ratification. If you are consistently inviting and having the best athletes in the world compete at your facility, one must assume that on any given day a record could be coming. Because, after all, records are the best performances ever, and typically they come when the best are competing against each other, and they typically come when least expected. After all Robert Cheruiyot did set a course record of 2:05:52 when he won last year – indicating that fast times could be run!

Being the oldest and one of the most revered road races in the world, Boston should have expected to be the site of a record at some point. And knowing the conditions required for record consideration, the officials in Boston should either have made some course adjustments and/or filed for a change in the standards for record consideration LONG ago. Just as any meet director hosting world class competitions on a regular basis should check the measurements of the facility and the instruments used to measure time, wind etc. to ensure that if a record is set at their facility it will meet the standards for ratification.

To wait until a record is actually set, then say “we realize we don’t meet the standards, but the mark is so good can you allow it anyway” is just inexcusable – and just another example of how unprofessional this sport can be at times. And for the organizers to essentially say that the course has not yielded such fast times before, therefore it does not aid the runners is a ludicrous argument. For example, the Johannesburg track never yielded a sub 10.00 before Linford Christie ran 9.97 in ‘95 and then Obadele Thompson blazed 9.87 in ‘98. Yet the altitude was always there. Point being that conditions do not always yield exceptional results even though they exist. Exceptional results are a result of exceptional conditions being taken advantage of by exceptional athletes in the course of exceptional competition. One of the reasons why records are simply not an every day occurrence.

I sympathize with the competitors who ran great times on Monday. But I’ve also watched some 40 plus years worth of sprint and hurdle races where records were lost to minute puffs of wind. I’ve watched athletes have entire performances taken away because they stepped on a line one time too many. And records nullified because a track was measured centimeters too short or wind gauges prove to be faulty, or jump or vault standards moved slightly after the jump. Performances don’t always fall within the scope of the rules – that’s part of the sport. The sad thing is that these performances were outside the scope of the rules before the gun went off, and everyone knew it. So to now cry “change the rules”, or simply “allow these performances” is a cry too little too late.

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