Chanman's Blog


Viewing the Men’s and Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials at the same time

Posted in USA Track & FIeld by Andy Chan on March 19, 2010
Tags: ,

Watching a race

In my last blog I wrote about Houston winning the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials. Even though the marathon trials are almost two years away it is interesting to consider the logistics of the race start times.

I’ve read that one idea is to start the men and women together, keeping them on opposite sides of the road for a couple miles until the men get ahead of the women and then have them share the course, and that another is to start the men first, wait fifteen minutes and then start the women.

A concern is that the media and spectators will want to be able to follow both races simultaneously. At the men’s trials in Birmingham in 2004 I was able to run all around the criterium course watching the drama unfold. In New York in 2007 spectators ran all over Central Park watching the men’s trials race. It will be nearly impossible to run around the course and follow both the men’s and women’s races if they start at the same time or with a fifteen minute gap between race start times. On television or for those following on the internet, it may be difficult because exciting moments could happen simultaneously.

At the last US Olympic Marathon Trials most of the drama in both races occurred between mile 20 and the end, which is approximately one hour, 40 minutes to two hours, 30 minutes into the race. In the women’s race, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet built a big lead over Deena Kastor and everyone was checking the mile splits to see if the lead was staying the same or shrinking. At one hour, 42 minutes into the race, Lewy-Boulet’s lead was 1:35. At this same point in the race, around mile 20 and about one hour, 40 minutes into the men’s race, the men were battling for the final qualifying spots. The biggest drama in the men’s race took place one hour, 51 minutes into the race when Brian Sell passed Dan Browne to move into 3rd place. There are always great shows of emotion when the qualifiers cross the finish line, which for the men is likely to be around two hours, 10 minutes. But the camera may not be able to follow the celebrations because out on the course could be a crucial moment in the women race, such as when Kastor passed Lewy-Boulet between mile 23 and 24, two hours, 14 minutes into the race. Even with a split screen the announcer can only talk about one thing at a time and some of the excitement of one moment will be diluted if you are watching two things at once. At an exciting event, like the Olympic Marathon Trials, the spectators almost need time to take in everything that’s happening. There may not be time for that if both races are going on simultaneously.

Even with a fifteen minute gap between the men and women’s start, there is a huge potential for overlapping action. There is just no telling when a breakaway by one of the runners, a surge by the pack leaving a key contender “going out the back door,” or some other race changing moment will occur. Neither race will get its deserved full audience attention if the races happen at the same time. A one hour gap between race starts could avoid “drama overlap.” But since the men are running 5:00-5:10 per mile and the women are running 5:40-6:00 per mile, the men could lap the women on the course, which would also be problematic.

I am sure that the race management will consider every possibility and will have come up with the best possible solution to this dilemma by January 14, 2012.

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