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Losing Out in the Long Run
David Epstein
October 03, 2011
A new rule (No men allowed!) will rewrite the record book in women's road racing
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October 03, 2011

Losing Out In The Long Run

A new rule (No men allowed!) will rewrite the record book in women's road racing

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Track and field and road racing would seem the most cut-and-dried of sports: cross the line first and you win; run the fastest time ever and you're the world-record holder. Yet there are plenty of ways to run faster than anybody else has and not get credit for the record that don't include a failed postrace drug test. In sprints on the track, the wind at your back can be no stronger than two meters per second. On the road, as we learned at the Boston Marathon in April, the course cannot have a net drop greater than one meter per kilometer, and the start and finish must be within a certain distance of each other. And now the IAAF, track and field's governing body, has created a new way for women to miss out: by running with men.

Under the new rule, which takes effect in January, any woman who runs in a mixed race in which men start from the same line at the same time would be eligible only for a "world best," not the more prestigious world record. The rule will be retroactive, stripping women who achieved records in mixed races of their world and national records.

The women's marathon record will revert from the 2:15:25 that Britain's Paula Radcliffe ran in London in 2003 with male pacesetters back to her 2:17:42 from '05. Deena Kastor's American record, 2:19:36 in London in '06, will be replaced by Joan Benoit Samuelson's gold-medal-winning 2:24:52 from the 1984 Olympics.

Though it's obvious that a woman using male rabbits, who can set the pace for the entire course, has an advantage, the ex post facto application of the rule has met with universal disapproval. The directors of the World Marathon Majors races— Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York—called it "confusing and unfair" and added that it "does not respect the history of our sport." Kastor best summed up the bemusement, telling The New York Times, "To have [the record] stripped from you ... when no scandal was involved is just hard to believe."

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