World record woes: Proposed rule may affect international standings in marathons

By Lindsey Woods

The International Association of Athletics Federations has proposed a new rule that would eliminate women’s road-running world records if they were accomplished during mixed-gender races.

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Oct. 9, which is one of the World Marathon Majors, is run as a mixed-gender race, meaning that any world records set by women will only be recorded as “world bests,” by IAAF standards.

The IAAF’s proposed rule has divided the major governing bodies of marathon racing. The WMM, which also includes Boston, London, Berlin and New York, and the Association of International Marathons, rejected the rule in a joint statement, saying it is “confusing and unfair.”

“I think performances in mixed races with men and women should be recognized,” said Carey Pinkowski, executive race director for the Chicago Marathon. “Here in Chicago, we’ll continue to run our race as a mixed race and let our women compete with the men.”

Both the WMM and the AIM are represented on the IAAF Road Running Commission and will still adhere to IAAF standards concerning course set-up and athlete steroid use. In their joint press release, the WMM and AIM organizations both agreed that distinctions between mixed-gender race records and women’s-only race records should be made, but they should both be recognized as “world records.” This is incongruous with the IAAF’s new rule which would call mixed race records by women “world bests.”

“The general argument is [the AIM and WMM’s standards] are confusing,” said Hugh Jones, secretary of AIM. “Well, maybe it is a little bit confusing, but it’s less confusing than having this arcane terminology of ‘world record’ and ‘world best’ and disentrancing one and reinstating another.”

Since the new rule would be retrospective, Paula Radcliffe’s world record time of 2 hours, 15 minutes, 25 seconds, would no longer be the record. Radcliffe would still hold the world record, but with a slower time of 2 hours, 17 minutes, 42 seconds.

Radcliffe expressed her disapproval of the rule in a Sept. 21 BBC article, calling it “unfair.” She said in both her record mixed race performances, she consciously ran alongside men, rather than behind them, and that it wasn’t her decision to run in mixed races, but the organizer’s decision.

Boston Marathon Executive Director Thomas Grilk said while the Boston Marathon is run separately by men and women, he believes that taking away Radcliffe’s world record is untimely.

“The IAAF should have done this back when they started regulating world record criterion,” Grilk said. “I think a world record should be broken by a fellow competitor, not in a board room.”

The IAAF wants to amend the rule because women get an unfair pacing advantage while running alongside men, according to Jones. He also said the AIM agrees with that position. He stated that male pacers for women runners aren’t the same thing as women pacers for women runners.

Pinkowski said he hopes the sport will come “full circle” in having one world record for women, like there is for men.

“Men can use men to pace them for their athletic records, so why can’t women use men? That’s the ironic question,” Pinkowski said.