- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

USA Track & Field finally did something it should have done more than two decades ago — put teeth into its stance against headphone use during races.

No longer will runners in long-distance events be permitted to carry music devices.

“The visible possession or use by athletes of video or audio cassette recorder or players, TV’s, CD or DVD players, radio transmitters or receivers, mobile phones, computers, or any similar devices in the competition area shall not be permitted,” according to Rule 114.3b under “Assistance to Athletes of USATF’s 2007 Competition Rules,” which was passed this year to increase runner safety.

Beginning this year, all USATF-sanctioned races will be subject to the new rule.

The Army Ten-Miler actually was ahead of the curve last year by not just suggesting but prohibiting music devices and heart-rate monitors as part of its overall strategy to increase security at its high-profile and high-risk event.

It has been an absolute joke in the running community for decades the way this rule has not been enforced. Nearly every race application I have seen has a mention about the prohibited use of music devices, yet there are always many people who believe that their personal needs are more important than the safety of the other participants.

I have asked race directors and race management companies for decades about their tolerance of headphone use and the answers were always the same — they can discourage it, but if they pull a paying participant off the course, they are concerned about being sued.

Now the rule is mandatory.

Some races like Twin Cities Marathon and Grandma’s Marathon — both in Minnesota — are taking this seriously. Grandma’s has prominently placed a link on the front page of its Web site with the following message:

“As an organization whose races are sanctioned and certified by USATF, we are required to abide by all rules, regulations and guidelines,” said Scott Keenan, executive director of Grandma’s Marathon. “Establishing the rules for our sport is a role of USATF. We support their efforts and will begin enforcing this new rule at all of our 2007 races.”

According to Keenan, athletes with music devices will have the option to surrender them to a race official before the race. Surrendered devices will be properly packaged and mailed back to the owners within two weeks after the race. Runners who violate the headphone ban will be disqualified and their finishing time will not appear in official race results.

Grandma’s officials are more courteous than me. I would adopt the policy of the Transportation Security Administration and toss all musical devices in the trash can rather than waste precious race resources on mailing expenses.

Busy weekend — For most elite runners, they don’t get paid unless they finish high in the standings and earn prize money.

This economic dynamic can pose major problems, when athletes and their agents put potential prize money before proper race recovery.

The races probably can get away with it with the younger athletes. Case in point — last weekend Teferi Bacha of Ethiopia and Magdelene Makunzi of Kenya won the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K in Richmond on Saturday, then placed sixth and fourth, respectively, at the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile the next day. He’s 21, she’s 24, and the $5,300 he earned and the $3,200 she earned is more than the annual per capita income in their home countries.

Silly me — I erred in last Monday’s coverage of the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile. The race also served as the Road Runners Club of America’s National 10-Mile Championship. I had assumed that the winners of that award would be the top Americans, giving the rising stars recognition.

Instead, the overall race winners — a world-class Ethiopian male and a world-class Ethiopian female — won the National Championship award (no prize attached), which does nothing to bolster their already world-class resumes.

“The RRCA Championships are open to athletes of any nation [like the U.S. Open in golf or tennis], so the RRCA champions would be the overall winners in the open, masters and grandmasters divisions,” event director Phil Stewart said.

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