This article was originally posted by Andrew A. at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
Now I am far from an isolationist, competitively speaking. I am all for scholarship runners from outside the U.S. competing in the NCAA/NAIA and certainly welcome top competition from across the globe coming to top U.S. races to compete. I see those aspects as enhancing domestic talent development, at the top of the sport it gives U.S. runners a higher bar to aspire towards. However, a report was recently shared with me that left me rather puzzled. While I can recognize that the supporters behind the efforts to give some Kenyan athletes a leg-up have their hearts in the right place — and, after all, it is their money to spend as they see fit — I have to wonder why there is this type of push to support good-yet-not-great elite runners in the world of elite marathoning (perhaps a generous assessment) from Kenya instead of a crowdfunding effort for U.S. runners at that level. The two runners in question have run 2:21 and 2:30+ which, even at altitude in the U.S., would not be considered on the cusp of world class performances for men. It is not as if there are not agents and coaches combing the Kenyan countryside for talent to develop and bring to marathons in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. already, there is a scouting and development system that has been in place for many, many years, as attested to by the world class results from Kenyan runners for the past four decades or so. If there are African runners who are not getting the opportunity to compete abroad, it is far more likely that they are simply not (yet) good enough to warrant that investment rather than having slipped through the cracks in the system.
Comparatively, there is little in the way of a system of talent identification and development in the U.S. for the marathon. There are sponsored training groups here, certainly, yet they are small in number and have limited funding and space. On top of that, this effort will bring these Kenyan runners to a race to compete with national-class and regional-class U.S. runners — many of whom hold down jobs to make ends meet — for a rare substantial marathon payday for runners at that level. This effort is subsidizing talent not good enough for any number of agents to take to any level of prize-money road race in Europe or Asia to come to a race in the U.S. and compete with U.S. runners in one of the few races that stands in support of grassroots development here. Now I honestly hope that the two Kenyans come in and run sub-2:15 and contend for the win, as long as they will be coming I genuinely wish them success. I am just grasping for the logic why this endeavor would be a more worthy expenditure by the U.S. running community over doing the same for our own runners. Is this outlook a short, slippery-slope away from viewpoints that desire U.S.-only prize purses at all domestic races or want to see scholarships at U.S. colleges and universities reserved exclusively for U.S. athletes?