Author Topic: When Money Came into Running  (Read 9163 times)

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Offline Ryan

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When Money Came into Running
« on: August 17, 2011, 11:51:11 AM »
An interesting article on the sport's turn toward professionalism 30 years ago and how it has affected the sport.

He makes some great points about the lack of development programs for sub-elite and developing runners. In the US, we have made some steps in the right direction in recent years but our "system" (if you can even call it that) is hardly ideal for creating a robust and thriving sport.

Offline Wilson

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Re: When Money Came into Running
« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2011, 01:04:17 PM »
This is a good article. For the past decade at least there has been a feast or famine approach for post-college development of runners. A handful of top athletes get to "feast," and make a decent living (althought not huge compared to superstars in other sports). Also feasting are the sport federations, corporate entities, and it seems like a boatload of organizers, probably some charities. The payback to the community at the grass roots (from developing elite/sub elite to local youth programs) level is usually minimal.
 
How about supporting running for its own sake? Club support that helps with gear and travel expense. Coaching. Development training.
 
What a concept. 

Offline runner88

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Re: When Money Came into Running
« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2011, 03:18:12 PM »
I would say that like the US, the UK has also made some ventures in the right direction in recent times. Sport universities allow the developing to train with the elites and with the added help of lottery funding and investment in the sport stemming from the 2012 Olympics, there are some great sporting facilities taking shape at the moment all over the UK.
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Offline Ryan

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Re: When Money Came into Running
« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2011, 07:34:46 AM »
Wilson, I know exactly where you're coming from but wouldn't you say the past decade has actually seen some improvement on that front, as opposed to the decade before? In the 90s, it seemed like there were no options for sub-elite runners coming out of college. Either you get your contract with Nike or you better get a day job. In the past decade, it seems like there are some options in the form of smaller sponsorships or clubs/teams that will help the runner develop while maybe working a part time job. Hardly the ideal sub-elite athlete development program but better than nothing, which is essentially what we had through most of the 90s.

Offline Andrew A.

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Re: When Money Came into Running
« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2011, 09:25:16 PM »
I agree, really good column.  Even with some improvement, the system remains paltry below the top elite levels.  It is trying to coax something out of a system that fundamentally does not support it.  The shoe companies still wield too much power and so long as corporations are pulling the strings and calling the shots behind the scenes there will be little more than token efforts at grassroots development.  If not for the NCAA/collegiate system, the U.S. would have been completely hosed in distance running, if not athletics on the whole.  And there has been enough flux in the NCAA system recently to suggest that it could certainly change radically for the worse for Olympic sports in the not-too-distant future.  Do not expect USATF to do anything meaningful to pick up the slack.  Wilson knows well that the USATF does not give a rip about grassroots, they let volunteers with delusions of grandeur run Associations like their own little fiefdoms.  We had a fine grassroots development system for post-collegians in the U.S. and too many top elites, as Robinson notes, were content to shortsightedly allow it be gutted by corporations for their own benefit.  The most successful sports I can think of (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, even UFC) have strong administrators calling the shots, not athletes and their agents (or vice versa) or corporations.
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Offline Ryan

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Re: When Money Came into Running
« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2011, 02:19:07 PM »
The most successful sports I can think of (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, even UFC) have strong administrators calling the shots, not athletes and their agents (or vice versa) or corporations.

As a result or as a side benefit, they also have strong development leagues that pay family-supporting salaries. Some development leagues (NBA, MLB) are supported by the major league, others (European basketball league, CFL) self-supporting.

What becomes of a guy who can run a 2:20 marathon or a 29:30 10K out of college? What chances does he have of supporting himself through running? There are a few opportunities now but not nearly enough. We need a "minor league" type system for those second-tier runners who may just become future stars if given a chance.

Offline Andrew A.

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Re: When Money Came into Running
« Reply #6 on: August 21, 2011, 05:09:13 PM »
Definitely, the 2:15-2:35 (men) and 2:40-3:00 (women) gaps that Robinson referred to.  The flip-side that I love is that someone like Kawauchi can run sub-2:09 while working a genuine, full-time job.  Of course, workaday runners like him come along perhaps once in a generation and that is certainly not a reliable route for encouraging development on a significant scale.
Why dink around? Go for it, be the best. It is worth whatever risk there is even if you fall short. You will be better.
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Offline Ryan

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Re: When Money Came into Running
« Reply #7 on: August 22, 2011, 07:43:31 AM »
Precisely. As is so often the case with training philosophies, a single elite who makes it via a method that is outside the norm doesn't prove that method is just as effective as the norm. Kawauchi's is an incredible story but, as you point out, it's not an elite development plan that anyone who actually wants to develop elites consistently should count on.

If we want to have a successful program, we have to give those sub-elites a chance. I don't want to hold myself up too much as an example because I believe, no matter the situation, I stood as close to zero chance as possible of truly being elite. However, I can attest to the fact after attempting to train like the elites that it's very difficult, even nearly impossible, to do so with any consistency while working a full time job. There just aren't enough hours in the day for working a 40 hour week, training a 15-20 hour week, doing the auxiliary things that give the elites that extra edge, and getting in the rest one needs to be able to do all those things for months and years on end without breaking down.

Offline Andrew A.

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Re: When Money Came into Running
« Reply #8 on: September 07, 2011, 11:02:41 AM »
Why dink around? Go for it, be the best. It is worth whatever risk there is even if you fall short. You will be better.
‎"There is no such thing as an overachiever. We are all underachievers to varying degrees." - John Wooden.

Offline Ryan

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Re: When Money Came into Running
« Reply #9 on: September 07, 2011, 03:05:11 PM »
It's nice to see a perspective from the other side on this. Kardong makes some interesting points. Obviously, we have no idea what would have happened had the race not happened. It's very possible that the runners who ran that race had no idea the New Zealand federation had no plan in the works. How the sharing of funding would have worked is a great question, though I'd be a bit hard pressed to believe that a federation would have just taken a percentage of prize money (maybe I'm just being willfully naive, I don't know).

What we do know is what happened. Not all of it was bad. It's great that the best in the sport are able to support themselves and, in at least some cases, get very handsomely rewarded for their efforts. It's unfortunate that second-tier athletes don't receive more support but there have been some recent positive changes in that regard.

Is the current system perfect? Horrible? I'd say somewhere between the two extremes. Would it have been better had the New Zealand plan gone through? It's impossible to know, we can only speculate. I do think that the fact that there was a plan out there is an important part of the history of running and shouldn't be covered up or dismissed. I don't think Robinson was off base to say that the shoe companies won 30 years ago. However, had the federations won 30 years ago, would running have been any better off? Given how the federations acted up until that time, it's hard to say with certainty that it would. Given some of the struggles the sport has had since, it's hard to say with certainty that it wouldn't.

In the end, it's nice to see a documentation of history and what has become of it. As for arguing about whether or not the sport benefited from it, I'd prefer to focus on discussion of what can be done from here forward to benefit the sport. Some of that discussion requires a review of history but a lot more requires a focus on the present and the future.

Offline Andrew A.

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Re: When Money Came into Running
« Reply #10 on: September 08, 2011, 07:36:30 AM »
I agree, good to get multiple perspectives.  However, Kardong's piece reads more like a defense/apologia for those who started the ball rolling on professionalism in distance running without much insight into what led to the distinct lack of development in the late '80s and '90s.  I am not so sure that prize money is really the answer.  Yes, it helps and is part of the fuller picture, yet something more is needed.  Like the development funds (which came with strings attached, of course) from NYRR and other parties funneled through USATF to training groups -- though there seem to have been some flaws with that.  The most successful and sustained development program in the past 2-3 decades has been that of the Hansons, which they started up chiefly through investing (being willing to lose) their own money, with no significant help from USATF or a shoe company, though they did subsequently chip in though they are still known to resist investment/meddling from USATF.
Why dink around? Go for it, be the best. It is worth whatever risk there is even if you fall short. You will be better.
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Offline Ryan

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Re: When Money Came into Running
« Reply #11 on: September 08, 2011, 09:46:02 AM »
Agreed. It came across as very defensive response without adding a lot to how we got where we are now. Some valid points were made but I felt somewhat uncomfortable reading that due to the tone.

I don't think prize money is the answer. As with you, I see the answer coming from development funds. I'd like to see some of the larger running clubs (NYRR does a good job) step up and, if not run their own athlete development programs, support local or even not so local programs.

The Hansons group is obviously the best role model imaginable for the kind of training groups that I'd like to see spread out all over the country. The groups in Oregon and the Mammoth Track Club are also doing well but they already work mostly with already established runners. The Hansons have, in my opinion, done a little better job of taking on runners who had potential but weren't already fully established and helping them take the next step to the elite level. This is the kind of support for second-tier athletes who have the potential to become among the best that didn't exist at all in the 90s and are still too uncommon that we need spread out throughout the country.

Offline grasshopper

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Re: When Money Came into Running
« Reply #12 on: September 09, 2011, 07:35:05 AM »
Great runners seem to run as if money were no concern, for the joy of the effort.  :)

Offline SF/John

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Re: When Money Came into Running
« Reply #13 on: September 09, 2011, 07:52:38 AM »
"“The A.A.U. says it is possible to get by on the expense allowances permitted by their rules. My answer to that is, ‘Yes, if you want to become an athletic bum.’ ”
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Offline Ryan

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Re: When Money Came into Running
« Reply #14 on: September 09, 2011, 08:06:13 AM »
Great runners seem to run as if money were no concern, for the joy of the effort.  :)

True but how many of today's great runners have to work a full time job to pay the mortgage/rent, put food on the table, etc? They seem to run as if money were no concern but maybe that's partly because sponsorships ensure money is not a concern. It makes things infinitely harder to train like a great if paying the bills is a concern.