When A Win Isn’t A Win

Sports can often be subjective, did that receiver push off and interfere with the cornerback, or was the cornerback the interferer? Was that a strike or just off the corner? Was the defender’s feet still moving or did they get the charge? That’s why running is such a nice break sometimes. Races aren’t subjective; there’s a line, people cross it, first one across wins. Not too complicated. So it was with great surprise that I read this story from San Francisco about the Nike Women’s Marathon where NYC school teacher Arien O’Connell ran the fastest time but didn’t win the race. That’s because O’Connell wasn’t registered in the “elite” group of runners who received a 20 minute head start to avoid the jostling of the amateurs.

Meanwhile, the 5th grade teacher, who had never broken 3 hours in 7 previous marathons ran her heart out and finished in 2:55:11. However, when the awards were announced for the winners O’Connell was not among them. “They called out the third-place time and I thought, ‘I was faster than that,’ ” she said. “Then they called out the second-place time and I was faster than that. And then they called out the first-place time (3:06), and I said, ‘Heck, I’m faster than her first-place time, too.’ ”

So O’Connell went over to the scorer’s and asked to see her time, and again, she was faster by nearly 11 minutes. “They were just flabbergasted,” O’Connell said. “I don’t think it ever crossed their minds.”

Nike, the company whose name implies victory and whose slogan is “Just Do It” did the opposite. “At this point,” Nike media relations manager Tanya Lopez said Monday, “we’ve declared our winner.”

Then race organizers tried to say that this was O’Connell’s fault because she didn’t register in the elite group. “I’m a good, solid runner,” she said. “I never considered myself elite.”

“The theory is that, because they had separate starts, they weren’t in the same race,” Jim Estes, associate director of the long-distance running program for USA Track and Field said. “The woman who is winning the elite field doesn’t have the opportunity to know she was racing someone else. These are things this race and other races need to look at. It comes down to what a race is, and who is racing who.”

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October 2008


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