- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2006

NASCAR has the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Golf recently has copied the format, which it will begin in 2007.

Now marathon running will have its version of an annual championship.

The World Marathon Majors will bring together five of the world’s top marathons — Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City — in a championship format, with prize money for the leaders of the series.

During the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Helsinki last summer, a “Big Five” group collaborated on medical and operational issues like drug testing and media relations, but most importantly on a championship series. Insiders are keeping tight-lipped on the details until two Jan.23 press conferences, one in Boston and one in London.

“The whole thing is still being finalized,” said one person involved in the alliance who asked not to be identified. “We’re trying to come out with a big splash [on the 23rd]. There would be a cash bonus. There would be an easy-to-understand point system. It’s not going to be like the [Bowl Championship Series in college football] or a quarterback rating system.

“It goes back a little bit to Helsinki; these five marathons started talking seriously about raising their profiles, what their objectives were. It moved quickly.”

The source said that many of the details still need to be worked out by the Jan.23 deadline.

Marathon world record-holder and reigning New York City Marathon champion Paul Tergat of Kenya will be at the London press conference, while 2004 Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi of the United States will be at the one in Boston.

Tergat already has committed to run in London, while Keflezighi is shooting for his first Boston Marathon. Deena Kastor, last year’s Chicago winner and 2004 Olympic bronze medalist, also will run in London.

The biggest beneficiary would be Boston, the first major marathon of the year on April17. In the past, London has had that bragging right, but this year the London race is April23. Next year, Boston is first again.

For decades, Boston has been passed over by many of the world’s best runners because it’s typically a slower course than London or Rotterdam in the Netherlands and does not measure up to London in appearance fees.

Berlin follows on Sept.24 and Chicago (Oct.22) and New York City (Nov.5) are in the fall.

The talk is that each runner will be required to run a minimum number of races in a one- or two-year period. The challenge to world-class marathoners is similar to that of a heavyweight prize fighter, as an elite marathoner’s body can only stand up to two or three punishing, quality 26.2-mile efforts a year.

“This championship is based upon incentivizing the world’s best marathoners to run regularly and in some cases as often as possible,” the source explained. “With the knowledge that there are only so many quality marathons somebody can run in a year.”

Without a sponsor for the championship, the source said the cash bonus and other expenses will be absorbed by the five races themselves.

“Each head of these organizations are playing an even role here,” the source said.

Several people close to the alliance said they were pleasantly surprised with the cooperation in light of the egos involved at the top of the sport. That issue appeared to be put to rest from the start.

“We are fiercely competitive, but we have learned that we have more that binds us than divides us,” New York City Marathon director Mary Wittenberg said in an opening statement at the Helsinki meeting.

Coincidentally, it was New York’s title sponsor ING that attempted with little success to organize a series of multi-distance races after the Dutch financial services giant became that marathon’s first title sponsor in 2003.

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