Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Arien O’Connell Wins SF Marathon... Or Not

[This video is provided as a soundtrack for this post. You don’t need to watch it, just push play and listen while you read, that is, if you’re capable of two things at once.]

24-year-old Arien O’Connell finished the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco with a faster time than any of the other runners participating. In fact, Arien’s time of 2:55:11 was 11 minutes faster than that of any other runner, but what does she have to show for it? A nice new, shiny PR and a mention on Half-Fast, but no prize money and no trophy. Some people might argue that being mentioned on Half-Fast is the ultimate prize and what every runner strives for (keep trying Ryan Hall, you’ll get there someday) and those people would be correct. However, it would be nice if the race also officially recognized your accomplishment.

Unfortunately for Arien O’Connell, she did not consider herself to be an “elite” and therefore did not run with the “elites.” She started 20 minutes after them with the rest of the pack. The race therefore will not honor her as the winner despite the fact that she ran the only sub-3 hour time.

Nike’s media relations manager, Tanya Lopez *cough* *eat feces and die* *cough* came out and said that “at this point, we’ve declared our winner.” Oh, I see. You’ve DECLARED your winner. Well that settles it then. And here I was na├»ve enough to think that winners were decided based on who had the fastest time, I didn’t realize that the winner could just be declared, as though they were a piece of fruit crossing the border. I like Nike, I really do, not their running shoes per se, but I like everything else about them and I hope that they get this figured out. Arien O’Connell’s situation is exactly the type of thing that they could have built a marketing campaign around or at the very least, could have gotten some great PR out of it. Instead it’s turning into one giant clusternication. Pull your head out, Nike!

If any of you are thinking that this situation is unfair to the other “elites” because they never knew that they were competing against Arien and could have increased their pace, then I point you to every other age grouper out there. Most of us run races not knowing who we’re competing against within our division, we just run the best race we can. Also, I’m not sure that you can argue that point when the time gap was 11 minutes. If the “declared winner” left another 11 minutes on the course because she thought she was in 1st place, then she doesn’t deserve it anyway.

So, Congrats to Arien O’Connell: Winner of the Nike Women’s San Francisco Marathon, at least as far as I’m concerned.

Confidential to Arien: If it turns out that you pulled a Rosie Ruiz and you embarrass me for shedding light on your plight then I’m going to be so mad at you. You only think you’ve heard the worst possible grade school insults, but just you wait.

You can read more about it at SFGate.

Runner’s nod to RW Daily for finding the story.

34 comments:

  1. wow... that's incredible... thanks for sharing! and I agree with you, Nike could have used this as great PR! Congrats to Arien!

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  2. Yeah. Nike scares me a little. Declaring your own winner? Yikes.

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  3. And this is why I need to be a race director. I never thought the people who come in first or with the fastest time really deserved to be declared the winner.

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  4. The fastest time does not equal the winner? Shame on you Nike!

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  5. I agree with you, she should be declared the winner. A similar thing happened to 4th place male finisher at Chicago this year.

    http://therunning.com/comments.php?article_id=8503

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  6. Actually, Viper, she did not come in first, she only had the fastest time.

    USATF rules only acknowledge who crosses the line first, and she didn't cross the line first. End of story, I don't have a problem with that.

    That being said, Nike made a huge error here in having an "elite" field of people that couldn't run elite times (I've heard but haven't verified that one of the "elites" had run over 6 hours for their last marathon).

    I'm not really sure why they felt a need for a 20 minute head start; it isn't like there was an elite men's field or a deep enough men's field to swallow the women leaders in the race. I think they should have done something to recognize her (in Chicago, they gave 5th place money to both the guy that won it and the guy that had the faster time) but according to racing rules, all is as it should be.

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  7. That's a crazy story, but Blaine is correct, the rules for all races very clearly say the winner is based on gun time (first to cross the finish line), not chip time.

    It's strange for two reasons - the elite times are very slow, those are great times, but hardly elite, not even close to Olympic trial times. Why wasn't O'Connell in the elite group? Even if she didn't set her own PR, she would have been competitive!

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  8. "You're the fastest runner but you're not allowed to win" - Howard Jones

    thankyouverymuch.

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  9. @phil: where in this race rules does it say that the winner is based on gun time?

    Nike marathon FAQ

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  10. Rule 245:

    http://www.usatf.org/about/rules/2008/2008USATFRules_Article4.pdf

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  11. Just a couple of points to add:

    1. The "elite" wave was "by invitation only" according to the Nike Women's Marathon site that I linked in the post, so Arien O'Connell couldn't have registered in that wave. The organizer's should have asked for previous times/PRs and put Arien in the "elite" wave.

    2. The 20 minute headstart was really unnecessary. 5 minutes should have been enough, and would have resulted in Arien winning by 6 minutes (or at least pushing the leaders to try harder).

    That said, I stand by my opinion that Arien O'Connell won the race.

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  12. As a student in Ms. A's, (Arien O'Connel), 5th grade class I think Nike was being unfair and that she should have been declared the winner.

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  13. It's like she picked the winning lotto numbers, but on the wrong day. Congrats, you did well, but you didn't cross the line ahead of the rest. It usually is gun time, not chip time.

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  14. I guess at Nike, "Just Doing It" isn't enough. You have to consider yourself an 'elitist' first.

    If I were @ NewBalance or any of the other 'shoe player's marketing team,' I'd snap up this opportunity to counter promo Nike.

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  15. This makes me both mad and sad. When I race, organizers assure me that it's not the gun time that counts. That's why we wear the chips.

    She's a hero to me, and I consider her the winner.

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  16. Wow! I hadn't heard about this! I KNEW reading your blog was going to pay off, despite everything Nitmos has said!

    Great story! What is Nike Thinking!?!

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  17. Personally I was appalled by the communication / problem solving skills of Tanya Lopez (Nike) and Dan Hirsch!

    I have read rule 245 of the USATF, but believe that there is insufficient information in the public domain on how the race was organised / run for people (Blaine Moore) to pass judgement based on this rule alone. Given that Nike and the organisers were caught out so badly, there is a strong probability that the race was not properly organised as per the USATF rules and regulations, so selectively applying rule 245 may become mute.

    In addition we all need to reflect on what sport is all about and for that I reference the Arizona Sports Summit Accord, which is based on the Olympic philosophy that there is no true victory unless it is achieved with honor and the Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

    In my mind, based on the public domain comments of Tanya Lopez(Nike) and Dan Hirsch, they have failed to uphold these fundamental philosophies. In doing so, Nike and the race organisers are indicating that their involvement is not for the good of the sport, but for their own commerical benefit. Thus they bring the sport into disrepute and should be treated in the same manner as doping athletes. Reference http://www.wada-ama.org/en/ for their take on character / courage / play true / dedication / excellence etc and then decide whether the organisers and Nike have met the standard demanded from athletes! I think NOT.

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  18. I read this Tuesday and felt so disappointed for so many reasons. I would be very uncomfortable as one of those "elites" who accepted the prizes. I would not feel like I deserved it after hearing about Arien. We run to prove our own endurance, not to unfairly beat our fellow runners.

    That being said, is there ANY funky, unfair but attainable rule that would get me BQ'd with a 5:33:38 marathon PR???? If so, I'm there BABY.

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  19. Posts w/ a soundtrack should be a regular feature.

    Wow, Nike, it's like you were gifted with a great PR opportunity, and you were only able to completely bungle it.

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  20. Can I declare myself a winner for this weekend's coming race before I step onto the road?

    Hey, I feel better already! Thanks Nike! I now feel imperceptibly less bad that I DON'T wear your brand...

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  21. Come on, it's not like Nike has the funds to actually award prize money to Arien in addition to the "elite" winners...

    Oh, wait. Hmmm.

    I think Nike is going to have to change their position.

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  22. You'd think this issue might have popped up before (absent Ms. Ruiz, whom I'm sad to say I actually remember, being of a certain age).

    Maybe somebody needs to come up with a plan.

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  23. Wow that's crazy! I had no idea. Thanks for the posting about it!

    I hope Nike fixes it.

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  24. Obviously I'm biased as I work at Nike, but they aren't the devil and the running / race committee is working on a solution.

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  25. Sarah, I'm not saying that Nike's the devil, I actually like Nike a lot, but I'm glad to hear that they're working on a solution.

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  26. Nike, for all the good it has done, screwed this one up. But I agree, Aries is the true winner.

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  27. You got a not from With Leather ... it officially makes you my husbands hero :)

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  28. Personally, I blame Big Oil and George Bush and John McCain, because he votes with Bush, like 90% of the time.

    Normally I'd say tough luck, because the winner of major marathons is usually established by gun time (but her time was still "slow", thus I guess no elite's even showed up), but Vanilla's point about how they handled who was considered "elite", etc. sounds like poor race management, so I say give her the W.

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  29. wow! Thanks for shedding light on this. What a shock and how disappointing---at least she knows she won in her heart (isn't that a great consolation prize??) Good post!

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  30. update, Nike has changed its mind. (read update part) http://dailyviews.runnersworld.com/2008/10/in-sf-fastest-t.html

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  31. Thanks Big, but you're too late! I actually just added an updated post above. :)

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  32. Winning a race is not what matters. It's the experience, the months of training with friends, and the wonderful feeling that comes with the support of the crowd and fellow runners. I don't have all the facts, but what I love most about this story, from what little I read, was that the fastest women that day (Arien, the clear winner for the women) came across as having the right spirit -- the spirit that should prevail at such events. Corporations such as Nike, who flail around while trying to stage manage what a child could see as false simply, bring bad fortune upon themselves. Way to go, Arien. Keep smiling. Love that smiling look. Come up to Anchorage and run the Anchorage Mayor's Marathon in June. You'll have fun and be treated like a champ!

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  33. Glad you were able to shed some light. And yeah, Nike for fixing it. Everyone makes mistakes, it's how you handle them that counts. It took them awhile, the first statement was awful, but they came around. Go Vanilla!

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  34. I agree with Blaine and Phil.

    Arien wasn't the race winner. She had the fastest time from those runners who started in the 'non-elite' wave.

    It was a 'stuff-up' by Nike in having two races, and I bet in next year's 'one race' they won't be using net-chip times to determine the winner. A runner could start 10 seconds after the gun, lose the 'net-race' by one second, and be declared the winner!

    I love mat-to-mat chip times for the masses, because you get an accurate PR in those huge races where you can't get anywhere near the front of the field at the start.

    For those trying to win or place in a race, you can only have 'gun times'. A race is a race, not a time-trial. There are good time-trial runners who'd crack under the pressure of actually racing head-to-head - dealing with surges, pace variations, kick finishes.

    OK, now it's back to my shaved 5k, where I can time-trial to my heart's content!

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