In a recent blog I detailed my thoughts on the lowering of the Olympics Marathon Trials Qualifying time. Some people responded in the comments section and others sent me their opinions in an email. I have collected many of them and put their retorts into a message here below.
One good friend was an advocate for raising the time. One of his reasons is as follows:
“Raising the standard, for example to 2:25, will put the dream of making the Trial within the reach of many good but not great marathoners. In 1980, I was good but not great -- my 2:27:25 at Boston 1980 was more than five minutes slower than the 2:21:54 standard. But I had four years, and I could have trained to beat 2:25 -- but by 1984, they lowered the standard to 2:20. That was out of reach, so why bother training for it?”
Many brought up the point that allowing more runners, rather than fewer, to run the Marathon Trials will focus more attention on the event and sell more people on coming out to watch it. The Marathon Trials should get as much interest as the Track & Field Trials and "fill the stadium." In countries like Japan, a major event getting less than a 10% share of televisions ratings would be a huge disappointment. In the US a 1% share is normal (the SuperBowl gets like 40% FYI)
Others brought up the point that a “party-crasher” was not too well-received. By this I mean, Michael Wardian, a 2:21:27 PR, led the race for 35 minutes.
Many feel that the organizers felt this upstart was simply trying to unconventionally grab some fame and did not like him crashing their party. Organizers like well-scripted events and if anything is certain in marathoning, it is that 26.2 miles leaves plenty of time for a script to be written by those who weren’t invited to the writing table. But Wardian’s surge faded and in spite of the relatively slow early pace which worried organizers, Ryan Hall set a Marathon Trials record. So what's the harm?
Not taking away stories like Wardian’s, people have said, increases the probability of an unknown with a slower qualifying time having a breakthrough -- for example, Kyle Heffner in 1980, John Tuttle in 1984, Mark Conover in 1988.
I feel that my friends have very good points. For whatever reason, the same people who will shoot a 96 on the golf links will still go watch 4 hours of Masters coverage in the club house but your typical road racer wouldn’t want to watch coverage of a Marathon on TV. If there were more “everymen” running, would there be greater desire to watch? Obviously the “slower” time did not affect this year’s finish.
Good food for thought.