Chanman's Blog

World Marathon Majors

Tesgaye Kebede, Jaouad Gharib, and Samuel Wanjiru at the 2008 Olympic Marathon in Beijing

Tune in on Sunday, November 7 for the New York City Marathon, the culminating race in the 2009-10 World Marathon Majors (WMM).

What is the World Marathon Majors? It is a marathon race series that offers a $1 million pot split between the top male and top female runners. The race organizers of the Boston, Virgin London, real- Berlin, Bank of America Chicago and ING New York City marathons partnered to create this series. The WMM was first announced on January 23, 2006. The idea behind the WMM is to “advance the sport, raise awareness of its athletes and increase the level of interest in elite racing among running enthusiasts.”

The races in the series are the five races that sponsor the series (Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York) and also the World Championships marathon and the Olympic marathon. The million dollars in prize money is awarded annually based on the results in the latest two-year period. In any given two year cycle there are eleven or twelve races. The top five finishers in each of these races earn points. The point system is:

–          25 points for first place

–          15 points for second place

–          10 points for third place

–          5 points for fourth place

–          1 point for fifth place

A runners best four performances during the series are summed for a total WMM score.

The 2009-10 series, which will conclude Sunday with the 2010 NYC Marathon, includes these eleven races:

–          2009 Boston

–          2009 London

–          2009 World Championships

–          2009 Chicago

–          2009 Berlin

–          2009 New York

–          2010 Boston

–          2010 London

–          2010 Berlin

–          2010 Chicago

–          2010 New York

The 2009-10 WMM champions were all but decided after the penultimate race in Chicago. Russia’s Liliya Shobukhova clinched the women’s championship with her win in Chicago. She has 85 points, an insurmountable lead over the 41 points earned by Germany’s Irina Mikitenko. Shobukhova accumulated her points with three first place finishes (25 points each) at 2010 Chicago, 2010 London, and 2009 Chicago, plus a third place finish (10 points) at 2009 London.

In the men’s competition, Kenya’s Samuel Wanjiru and Ethiopia’s Tesgaye Kebede were tied with 50 points before the 2010 Chicago Marathon. The two rivals waged an amazing battle at Chicago with Wanjiru pulling away for the win after mile twenty-six. The Chicago win gave Wanjiru 75 points to Kebede’s 65 points. Neither athlete is scheduled to race at New York. Kebede fueled speculation that he might run New York (where a second place or better finish would give him the 2009-10 WMM championship win) because he did not deny rumors that he was considering coming back to race in New York just four weeks after Chicago. But, in the end, he publically stated that he would not race in New York, which effectively gave Wanjiru the 2009-10 championship.

Although this year’s NYC Marathon will not determine the winner of the 2009-10 WMM championships, there was quite a bit of WMM drama at the 2008 NYC Marathon. That year, Germany’s Irina Mikitenko and Ethiopia’s Gete Wami were tied with 65 points. Mikitenko, having won the 2008 Berlin Marathon, was not racing in New York but was on hand to watch the race unfold. Wami was racing and the WMM championship was on the line. Wami placed a disappointing sixth and so the two runners remained tied. The WMM tie-breaker rule was to look at head-to-head competition in previous WMM races within the period. That was also a tie: Wami beat Mikitenko at the 2007 Berlin Marathon, and Mikitenko beat Wami at the 2008 London Marathon. Because of this, the five WMM race organizers took a vote to determine the winner. Based on her faster average marathon times and the lower number of races she ran to ahieve 65 points, Mikitenko was voted the winner. As a result of this controversial end to the 2007-08 WMM series new objective rules were put in place to break any future ties.

The complete list of WMM champions to date:

2006-07 – Robert Cheruiyot, Kenya (80 points) and Gete Wami, Ethiopia (80 points)

2007-08 – Martin Lel, Kenya (76 points) and Irina Mikitenko, Germany (65 points)

2008-09 – Samuel Wanjiru, Kenya (90 points) and Irina Mikitenko, Germany (90 points)

The World Marathon Majors is a great collaboration between five of the largest, most well-known, and most competitive marathons in the world. Any series of races that promotes the sport of running and provides the incentive of prize money for top runners is a good thing in my book. As you watch future Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York, World Championship, and Olympic marathons, remember that in addition to the drama of the head-to-head competition you are watching, these races have implications for victory in the WMM as well.


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