Accounting for stiff winds? Sure. Drugs and Flubberized footwear are easy to 86. The ban on music seemed unnecessary but, whatever, no one’s going to have a world record overturned because Daft Punk’s “Discovery” was on the earbuds.
But with the I.A.A.F., which governs track and field and road races internationally, deciding that it’s going to disallow world records for women who run alongside men? We’re officially into the realm of running rules that transcend the fickle. Quite possibly we have crossed the line into bullshit for bullshit’s sake.
Not only has the I.A.A.F. determined that it will no longer recognize women’s time from mixed-field road races, it has retroactively rewritten the world record for the women’s marathon from Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 to a 2:17:42 she ran in a race that started the women 45 minutes ahead of the men.
That 2:15:25? Oh, that’s now recognized as merely the “world best” time, not the world record. It comes complete with a pat on the head and a big thumbs-up.
It’s so cosmically stupid that you have to figure, surely, there’s something else to grasp, some nuance of the sport that a non-expert just doesn’t get. Then you look at Runner’s World and see Peter Gambaccini’s line: “How can I put this succinctly? It’s a dumb and even cruel ruling.”
And then there was this joint statement by the Association of International Marathons (with 300 member marathons) and the World Marathon Majors (representing the Boston, New York, Chicago, London and Berlin marathons): “The current situation where the fastest time is not now recognized as a record is confusing and unfair and does not respect the history of our sport.”
“It’s a move that could only have been made by an organization that doesn’t know its public relations ass from its elbow,” is how Philip Hersh wrote it in the Chicago Tribune, a family newspaper. “Want to diminish an already shrinking audience for track, field and road running? Just ask advice from the IAAF, the body charged with promoting the sport.”
At issue is whether women gain an advantage by using men as pacesetters in the mixed races, because women who race alongside men tend to knock a couple of minutes off their marathon times. But one of the few charms of road running is that it often allows women and men on the same field, at the same moment. And elite women distance runners tend to hold up relatively well against men. The current women’s world record in the mile, for instance, is about where the men’s world record was 94 years ago. In the marathon, Radcliffe’s times would have beaten the men’s record as recently as 1958.
At even greater distances, the gender gap closes in other curious ways: only 10 minutes separate the men’s and women’s world records at 100 km (equivalent to about 2.4 marathons), which happens also to be the approximate gap between men’s and women’s marathon records. Why pull them apart? If a woman can keep up with her male counterpart, wind ’em up and let ’em go. Then call her world record by its rightful name.