- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bravo to two announcements this week offering financial support to America’s distance runners.

Road Runners Club of America, which since 1996 has awarded stipends through its Roads Scholar program to assist American post-collegiate road runners who show great promise to develop into national and world class road running athletes, is seeking applications for the 2007-08 Roads Scholar Class.

According to RRCA, the program has distributed more than $200,000 to emerging American distance runners. Grants in the amount of $5,000 a year have been awarded to four to six athletes annually since the program’s inception.

To augment RRCA’s efforts, several U.S. marathons including our own National Marathon are offering incentives to qualifiers for U.S. Olympic marathon trials. Enticements ranging from free race entries to bonus money are available to U.S. athletes wishing to take advantage of a variety of qualifying opportunities in 2007, all leading up to the men’s trials in November and the women’s trials in April 2008.

RRCA cites two grant recipients as evidence of its success with the Roads Scholar program: Deena Kastor, a 1997 recipient who earned the 2004 Olympic marathon bronze and Samia Akbar, last year’s recipient who was the third-fastest U.S. female finisher in New York two months ago.

To be a recipient, one must be a U.S. citizen, have graduated from college (or whose class has graduated), plan to race in top open road race events and expect to earn less than $30,000 in 2007 from all sources.

Meanwhile, officials at the Meijer Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon in Louisville, Ky., scheduled for April 28 said they will pay a bonus of $2,000 for achieving the “A” standard (2:20 for men and 2:39 for women) and $750 for achieving the “B” standard (2:22/2:47). They also will repeat the American-only time bonus incentive from last year.

The second annual National Marathon in Washington, slated for March 24, will write $1,000 bonus checks to all “A” standard bearers and $500 bonuses to all “B” qualifiers.

I certainly can appreciate the effort coming from all facets of the running community to support our distance runners as they try to compete with the dominant African countries and more and more from Russia and the old Eastern Bloc nations.

But I question what impact a freebie entry fee of $85 has on a running career, or a $1,000 bonus check for one race or even $5,000 for the year. That is just $416 a month, hardly a car payment for many and surely not a rental or mortgage payment.

If we were in Kenya, where reportedly the current per-capita income averages about $360, these bonuses and grants would be substantial and life altering.

I just cannot believe that is the case here. Obviously, looking at RRCA’s program, one wonders if spending more than $200,000 for just one Olympic bronze medal and no World Championships medals is overwhelming proof of success. Maybe nationally but certainly not internationally.

Would it be better to give a $20,000 grant to one athlete each year instead of divvying up among four to six runners? One could almost live on that amount of money and could train full time with necessary support. But if that were the case and we bet on the wrong racehorse, it could be a huge waste of resources for the year and the future.

This goes back to what I have been saying for years — every race that uses USA Track & Field sanctioning or RRCA insurance should have to give to USATF or RRCA at least a dollar or two a runner. And part of those monies should go to supporting our athletes who have chosen this still-widely amateur sport as their profession.

Note — I have compiled an extensive list of open and masters indoor track meets from Washington to New York. E-mail me at [email protected] and I will forward you a copy.

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