The Extra Mile

Women's World Marathon Majors Finish Is a Disappointment

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The women's winner of the second World Marathon Majors title was decided at the New York City Marathon on Sunday, not on the course but by a vote -- hardly the high point on which the five WMM race directors had hoped to conclude the second of the overlapping two-year series.

The men's contest already had been locked up by Martin Lel, who won the London Marathon twice and New York last year. But for the second straight year, the women's winner remained in doubt into the final race, generating interest and raising the series profile. Last year, Ethiopian Gete Wami held off Latvian Jelena Prokopcuka in New York's final miles to win the inaugural series. Both men's and women's titles are worth $500,000.

After winning the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 28, Germany's Irina Mikitenko stood tied for the series lead with Wami. Mikitenko traveled to New York to watch, wait and hope that neither Wami nor Catherine Ndereba, also competing but needing a win, would overtake her. Ndereba finished fifth and Wami sixth, so even after the first tiebreaker -- head-to-head contests, in which Mikitenko and Wami had each beaten each other once -- the two remained deadlocked.

Thus the anticlimax of the vote. Fortunately, the race directors were unanimous in their decision as Mikitenko had earned her points in one fewer race and recorded faster times, obviating any protracted controversy. But the postrace vote only highlighted the byzantine nature of the series.

"We talked extensively [at the series inception] about trying to avoid complicated rules," said Mary Wittenberg, race director of the New York City Marathon. "You want to have a simple series for the fans, a simple series for the media, and now perhaps it's two years later, there's that much better of a foundation to build on and alter the rules and get into a little bit more detail and less complicated a structure."

The five members (including race directors from the Chicago and Boston marathons) will meet in December to consider changes. Here's a vote for adding more races and turning the series into an annual affair -- with plenty of tiebreakers -- to determine the marathoners of the year.

ยท NO MEA CULPA: Disgraced sprinter Marion Jones gave her first post-prison interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" Oct. 29. Jones talked about the "question mark" surrounding her performances and maintained that she thought she was always drug-free.

-- Jim Hage

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