Race tries to attract top American runners

Updated: April 23, 2004, 2:04 AM ET
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twin Cities Marathon opens for registration next week with a new policy that takes aim at Kenyan dominance of U.S. foot races: prize money will be limited to U.S. citizens.

Twin Cities Marathon executive director Ron Abrahamson said the race's board decided to limit the potential winners pool "to position ourselves as the fall marathon that U.S. runners want to run" and "enhance the buzz" about the race.

American men's and women's first-place finishers in this year's 26.2-mile run on Oct. 3 will each take home $25,000. In recent years, the first-place prize has been $20,000.

The decision also sets up the race for 2005 and 2006, when the marathon will be the U.S. National Championship, Abrahamson said. "Maybe this is our chance to show our support for U.S. distance runners," he said. Limiting prize money to Americans has been virtually unheard of, except in some marathons that are also U.S. championships.

Rich Kenah is the marketing director at Global Athletics & Marketing Inc., which represents world-class Ethiopian and Chinese marathoners. Even he called the change a great idea.

"There are plenty of races in the country and all over the world for athletes to race in," said Kenah, a retired runner. "I know how hard it is for Americans to compete and make a living in the sport."

The Twin Cities marathon is considered a second-tier race, behind the biggest U.S. marathons in Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

Chicago, which falls on Oct. 10 this year, draws more than 30,000 runners and is a flat, fast course, a draw for elite runners who might be seeking qualifying times. New York, which will be run Nov. 7, draws about 35,000 runners and is a showcase event. Those races tend to be dominated by foreign runners.

Jerry Crockett, chairman of the long-distance running division of USA Track & Field, said the Twin Cities can't draw the elite international fields, so focusing on Americans is a good way to go -- for now.

"It's a little bit of a sad commentary that our runners can't compete with the Kenyans and Ethiopians on a championship scale, but we're getting there," he said.

The Twin Cities field wasn't limited in 2003 when marathon novice and U.S. citizen Blake Russell won the women's race.

Still, Russell on Wednesday applauded the decision of the Twin Cities Marathon board. "There's so few races in America that offer American-only money," she said. "It's really hard to make a living running. To really run hard and run fast, you have to do it full time."

Ryan Lamppa, California-based media coordinator for Running USA, which helps distance runners, said of the Twin Cities Marathon board decision, "It's their race and if they want to give prizes to people from South Dakota, that's their choice ... If it doesn't work, they'll probably change it."

Lamppa said the decision should help runners who struggle financially while trying to make it in their sport. "Running is a very, very hard way to make a career," he said.

Still, even with the prospect of prize money, the Twin Cities might have trouble drawing top-notch U.S. runners this year because many of them, especially marathoners, will be recovering from the summer Olympics.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press