By Laura Pappano
The use of pacesetters is common in running, from short track distances to marathons. Boston and New York no longer allow pacesetters, but many marathons do, including Chicago, London, Berlin, and Rotterdam. (New York used to, paying rabbits several thousand dollars to set the pace and then drop out at the 25K mark).
By framing the matter as a gender problem – women’s marathon records can only count in women’s-only events – the IAAF conveniently sidesteps the more controversial issue: Should rabbits be allowed?
Competitive sport has long relied on athletic challengers meant to set a pace or spur improved performance. It is part of bicycle and car racing. While use of male practice squads in women’s college basketball spurred debate several years ago, the NCAA decided to allow them. (BTW colleges, including Ohio State are looking for a players).
Does the practice provide an unfair advantage? If so, are we ready to apply the same standard to men’s records achieved with the aid of pacesetters?
That would be a blow to many, including Roger Bannister who ran his historic sub-four-minute mile in 1955 – with the help of two pacers.
Until we have female rabbits (a thought) it’s easy for the IAAF – as it was for opponents of male practice squad players – to argue that women are relying on physically large and speedy males to improve their own performance.
But then, aren’t male runners using rabbits doing the same thing? And let’s remember: Paula Radcliffe really did run a 2:15:25 marathon (and in 2003 when she did it, no British runner, female or male, ran faster).