Friday, October 24, 2008

Definitions of a Winner: Nike Women's Marathon Changes Results After Bad Publicity

Last Sunday, the Nike Women's Marathon took place in San Francisco, California. With about 20,000 women participating, they raised more than $18 million for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society. They also raised a lot of eyebrows when they awarded first place to a runner who did not run the fastest time.

As with many big road races, the Nike event had a separate category for the elite women racers, and they started 20 minutes ahead of the rest of the runners. As it turned out, the fastest time (2:55) was run by Arien O'Connell, who was not registered in the elite category. She ran a 12 minute PR, to beat the fastest elite woman by about 11 minutes. You can read a detailed article in the San Francisco Chronicle here.

In the wake of all the bad publicity, Nike has since changed their tune, and decided to award O'Connell with the same prize received by the elite winner. There are some good articles on this here and here. She still is not the winner, and it strikes me as very odd. 2:55 is frankly not that fast for a wining time in a large road race. I'm assuming it was a somewhat slow course, but still, it makes perfect sense to me that a runner who has never broken 3 hours before would not register herself as an elite.

The original argument was that the elite women couldn't adjust their race plan to truly compete against O'Connell, since she was farther back in the race. I can see the point, but I can't imagine that the "winner," who ran 3:06, was really going to run 12 minutes faster. Who knows. Clearly the way this race is set up needs to be changed. Maybe the categories defining "elite" should be made clear. Maybe there should not be a 20 minute head start for these runners.

In its odd attempt to award two winners, Nike still looks like the corporate bad guy, and USATF looks like the road racing bureaucracy that it really is.


  1. G,

    One of our run club members came up with the ultimate solution had NIKE held out. Let the runners make a ruling. Have the supposed winner relinquish her bling to the rightful owner.

    You are absolutely right about these times being very slow for such a large race. How the hell was she to know to sign up with the micro spandex "elite" group of women?

  2. i fully agree. what an uneccesary mess. i've been in enough large road races, while i can understand having an elite division, to wonder why they'd start 20 minutes apart? if they'd all started at the same time, none of this would be news. they're all running the same race, so they should all be running against each other. shame on the woman that was nearly 30 seconds PER MILE slower and claimed her "first" prize. what a joke. it was also not a particularly slow course, as it stayed mostly along the waterline, so what exactly is the criteria to be "elite" when none of the elites even ran 7 minute pace? and there's NO WAY that anyone could have run 12 minutes faster. no way. MAYBE 5, tops, and that's a stretch. like i said, UNECCESARY mess.

  3. I'm glad they sorted that one out and she got to be "one of the winners" as I think they put it. What bullshit. Three hours is fast, but like you said, not ELITE. I more wonder what the 3:06 woman was thinking when she signed up "elite". I could understand if it were an issue with prize money, where age groupers are not eligible for cash prizes (this happens a lot in triathlons), but not letting her stand on the podium is bullshit.

    And isn't it ironic that homegirl won wearing a Nike top! I bet she gets some sponsorship out of this, and I hope it's from Reebok and Adidas!