- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2003

Easter is six weeks away, but discussions of the role of rabbits have been rampant recently in many sectors of the international running community.
Obviously, I refer not to the cottontail rabbit variety, but those individuals assigned to pace other runners to record performances and personal bests.
Controversy over the role of rabbits in road racing and track is not new. Even Roger Bannister, who was the first to break the four-minute mile, utilized pacers during his historic performance on May6, 1954.
In fact, one of his pacesetters, 1956 Olympic steeplechase champion Chris Brasher, died just over a week ago. Brasher skillfully brought Bannister through 440 yards in 57.5 seconds and 880 yards in 1:58.2. Bannister then took control and recorded a 3:59.4.
According to Bannister in his 1955 book "The Four Minute Mile," Brasher was crucial to the record, holding Bannister back and on pace early on so he would have the energy to close strongly.
The international track circuit long has employed rabbits to infuse excitement into its races and to produce world and meet records, thus elevating the status of events. Most reaction to the use of pacesetters, from athletes to fans, has been positive.
But the issue has become more gray than black and white as men are pacing world-class women and young athletes are pacing masters athletes.
One of the races that put the brightest lights on the issue occurred when Kenyan marathon great Tegla Loroupe ran with a male competitor/pacer in the 1998 Rotterdam (Netherlands) Marathon and set the then-world record of 2:20:47.
Other women complained that it was unfair and against the rules for women to be paced by men. Controversy struck, and some running authorities ignored Loroupe's record, claiming that just marks set in women-only events should count.
Loroupe's case helped lead to a decision by officials of the London Marathon to have a separate start for the women. New York City followed suit last year.
Last week the British-based Guardian newspaper reported that "a plan to use a unique solution. The races will remain separate but there will be male pacemakers for the women."
For years, the lead women at Chicago, where Radcliffe set the current world record of 2:17:18 last October, have been paced by designated male rabbits.
The Guardian article said that "the International Association of Athletics Federations is concerned that the pacemakers will not finish the race after completing their jobs. It is expected that the last pacemaker will drop out at 25 miles."
Responded Istvan Gyulai, secretary of the IAAF: "This is not against the rules as such, but it's not in the spirit of the sport to have men, with no intention of finishing the race, pace-making women."
Nor did some masters runners feel it was in the spirit of the sport when 40-year-old Tony Young surpassed the American 3,000-meter record in the men's 40-to-44 age group after he was paced by twentysomething David Hinga in an exhibition race at last Sunday's USA Indoor Track & Field Championships in Boston.
Should it really matter who paces whom? The athlete still needs to run the entire distance under his or her own power.
Humor in the sport
From "Tonight Show" host and funnyman Jay Leno last week: "I made it halfway through the L.A. Marathon last weekend … then I changed the channel."

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