Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Boston, NYC Marathons want Olympic trials back, with changes

AP Sports Writer

BOSTON (AP) — Marathon officials in Boston and New York are
already eager to bring the 2012 Olympic trials back to their
cities, as long as the sport’s governing body helps them recoup the
$1 million it cost to piggyback another event on their races.

“There’s no going back at this point,” said Mary Wittenberg,
the president of the New York Road Runners, which organizes the New
York Marathon. “We’ve taken the trials to a whole new level. I
think we’re shortchanging everybody if we don’t find a way to build
on it.”

Although trials are common in most Olympic sports, including
other running events, the nature of the 26.2-mile marathon makes it
difficult to add another race into the athletic calendar. Virtually
every other country picks its marathon team by committee; Boston
men’s winner Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya and women’s winner Dire Tune
of Ethiopia are both hoping their performance on Monday will earn
them a trip to Beijing.

“That is complicated,” said Cheruiyot, a four-time Boston
winner who was left off the Kenyan team for Athens. “I may be
there; I may not. But I hope to be there.”

Less complicated is a race where the top three finishers make
the team.

And that’s the allure of the trials.

After decades of holding distinct, but largely ignored,
marathons to choose the Olympic teams — for the 2004 Games, the
trials were in St. Louis and Birmingham, Ala. — USA Track and Field
assigned the Beijing qualifiers to the country’s most prestigious

But the men didn’t traverse the five boroughs along the
traditional New York route; nor did the women head from Hopkinton
to Boston on Patriots Day as thousands of runners have done for a
century. Instead, the would-be Olympians followed specially
designed courses, a day before the traditional races.

“I think it put American distance running in a whole new
light,” Boston Athletic Association executive director Guy Morse
said Tuesday. “U.S. athletes deserve this sort of stage.”

Deena Kastor, Magdalena Lewy Boulet and Blake Russell qualified
for Beijing on Sunday with their 1-2-3 finish in Boston. Ryan Hall,
Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell earned spots on the U.S. men’s
team with their top-three finishes in New York in November.

Both courses were lined with fans, many of them runners in town
for the next day’s race. But the extra event cost New York and
Boston officials more than $1 million each.

“We don’t believe it should be incumbent upon the local
organizing committee to have to support it 100 percent,” Morse
said. “We knew that going in, and we made that commitment. But we
won’t do it again” under those conditions.

What New York and Boston organizers wanted most was to fold the
trials into their regular race, perhaps with an earlier start that
would give the Americans the course to themselves. But that raised
the question: Would the trials’ profile be elevated by
incorporating it into the most prestigious marathons in the world,
or would it be overwhelmed by the international — and, frankly,
more accomplished — field.

“I know that there is no desire among our athletes — male or
female — to push the trial races into the ’big races,’” USATF
president Bill Roe said Tuesday. “We also have no desire to deal
with the possibility of a non-American crossing the finish line at
our trials first.”

But there’s a bigger obstacle: Money.

Morse said the trials cost “upwards of $1 million; we’re still
counting.” More importantly, he said, there was no opportunity to
recoup the expenses through sponsorship or television because those
rights are locked up by the USOC and USATF.

For the women’s trials, which ended at the traditional Boston
finish line, officials had to cover up John Hancock ads prepared
for Monday. And how would Olympic sponsor Bank of America feel
watching the U.S. team crowned under banners touting the local
sponsors at the ING New York City Marathon?

“I know my optimism about finding a solution with the USOC and
LOCs over costs is not shared among some in our sport,” Roe
said. “But I think we have to give it a try before ever contemplating
mixing the trials — which since 1972 have always been a stand-alone
event — with a larger event.”

Local organizers were able to solicit from official Olympic
sponsors, but “a lot of those sponsors feel like they’ve already
supported the Olympics and there was no more funding for the
trials,” Morse said. The USOC and USATF did chip in $20,000 apiece
for TV production and provided water and sports drinks for the
runners along the course.

Both Morse and Wittenberg said the key could be getting the host
cities awarded quickly, to give them time to seek out
sponsors. Boston was awarded this year’s trials about two years before the

Roe said that’s being discussed.

“Perhaps our trials site will be named earlier than in the
past,” he said.

For the Beijing qualifiers, USATF required a loop course that
essentially starts and ends at the same spot. By definition, such a
course is neither uphill nor downhill, neither upwind nor downwind,
and because it’s more compact the fan support is more concentrated.

By avoiding Heartbreak Hill and the other ups and downs of the
tough Boston course, organizers can puff up their Olympic
qualifiers with fast times. But, Morse noted, “our race would be
more indicative of what they’re going to face in the Games. In most
cases, it’s a Boston-type of course.”

Boston benefited, too, by having the chance to crown an American
winner on Boylston street, which hasn’t happened in the traditional
race since 1985. Local organizers of both events also reaped the
goodwill developed in their cities and from the running world.

“It’s part of a much bigger strategy for us, to build a sport
and develop stars,” Wittenberg said. “It’s time to get the big
fish in the big pond. I think before we were enabling
mediocrity. I’m so confident our athletes are up to the stage.”

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