Sunday, November 13, 2011

You Can't Just Erase History...

In August, many were outraged by the announcement by the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation) that women's world records would only count in all-women races.   Apparently, the potential benefits of running with fast male pacers skews the results?  It sounded like good racing strategy to me - pace yourself with fast people and you'll run fast. The end.

The most horrify part of this ruling however, was that the IAAF intended to take away existing world records that were set in co-ed races and merely refer to them as a "world best." This included Paula Radcliffe's amazing finish at the 2003 London Marathon - 2 hours, 15 minutes, 25 seconds.  Further, it would also disqualify the second fastest marathon - also run by Radcliffe, at the 2002 Chicago Marathon. 

However, the IAAF announced this past week that it has (partially) changed its mind.  The new rule will stand effective 2012, but will no longer operate to strip Radcliffe of her 2003 marathon record.

Personally, I am thrilled for Radcliffe and other women in the sport. I don't really buy the arguments in favor of this new rule.  I suppose there is biological truth to the fact that men generally run faster than women and a race with male pacers gives an edge to an elite female runner looking to push herself further than most female pace setters would be able to push.  But male runners also benefit from these pacers. Even some of the most elite male runners  make use of pacers.  

To be fair, I won't pretend I understand even a portion of the ins-and-outs of elite running, record setting, etc.  From a very removed perspective, I just don't like what this new rule will do - provide even further separation between the genders.  That is one thing I really like about running - it's the same playing field.  There is not direct physical contact, making it difficult for men and women to compete together.  In a race, there is direct competition, but also competition with self and with the clock.  You can compete against yourself and the clock any day of the week, but I think nearly every runner will agree that the direct competition in a race makes athletes dig even deeper and put it all on the course.  It saddens me that for a record to stand, that course must be segregated. 

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