More than 16,000 runners are scheduled to start the New York City Marathon Sunday. Logic and reason are not entered.
Long distance running is a sport in disorderly transition. In the year since the 1979 marathon, long distance running has taken its first steps from an amateursport in which under-the-table expense money was the unwritten law, to The Athletics Congress (TAC), Long Distance Running (LDR) Grand Prix prize money system, approved by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) as a one-year experiment in which money could be paid to clubs and then distributed to athletes as reimbursement for training expenses and lost income during training and competition. (TAC is the governing body for amateur athletics in the United States.)
A giant step forward, says TAC. But not the ultimate solution.
Baby steps, at best, says the Association of Road Running Athletes (ARRA). Backward steps, at worst.
Last month, the ARRA membership, which now numbers 60 to 65 of the top long distance runners in the country, including Bill Rodgers, voted to boycott all Grand Prix races, including the New York Marathon, which had been "projected as part of the circuit," said Jim Lillstrom, circuit coordinator.
Race sponsors also were opposed to the marathon going Grand Prix. And sources say, New York Mayor Ed Koch was not happy with the idea either.
Last week, race director Fred Lebow, an architect of the Grand Prix proposal, announced that the N.Y. Marathon would not be a part of the circuit, saying there was insufficient time to implement the award system.
But runners say they have been told by officials of the New York Road Runners Club that there will be under-the-table prize money awarded for place finishes in Sunday's race. Steve Floto, who is running, and Garry Bjorklund and Tom Fleming, who are not, as well as a runner who received under-the-table prize money for last year's top 10 finish, say they were told that first-place prize money for the men will be $12,000 on Sunday, $2,000 more than last year.
"Inflation is running at about 20 percent," said Floto.
Floto said he was told in early September that the prize-money scale would be "$12,000 for first, $10,000 for second, $8,000 for third" and then descend a thousand dollars per place finish, with 10th place worth $1,000. Others say they heard variations on that breakdown, beginning at $12,000.
Laurie Binder, who will run, said she was told the top 10 women would receive prizes and that the first-place woman would receive $6,000 or $9,000 if a world or U.S. record is set.
"The money looks good," she said, "but I don't think the women's money looks that great. I feel the women should get the same."
Sources say that other runners are receiving under-the-table guarantees for running. Rodgers, who has won the race the last four years, is reportedly receiving $20,000 to run this year.
If Floto places in the money, he plans to make it public. "I'll show people the check," he said, "and say, 'This is what we're trying to eliminate. We make money, Joe Public.'"
Lebow, who has denied reports originally published in The Washington Post that more than $50,000 in prize money was paid to top finishers in last year's marathon, said, "New York 1980 does not have a prize structure, under or over the table."
"I do admit that we gave $57,000 to 60 people last year and we are giving much more this year in terms of pure expenses. It will go over $85,000."
Last April, Aldo Scandurra, the treasurer of TAC, was asked by the officers of that organization to name a committee to investigate the prize-money reports.
The registration committee of the Metropolitan Athletics Congress (MAC), the local TAC body for New York, met in June. Committee chairman Heliodoro Rico said, "Aldo undertook the task to ask us to make an investigation. We discussed it at our meeting. The most we had to go on was a report in the newspapers that someone was getting money they shouldn't be getting. Under the circumstances, we decided we shouldn't go any further."
The committee voted unanimously not to investigate. Not one athlete, or marathon representative was questioned, Rico said.
Ollan Cassell, executive director of TAC, said, "We asked the MAC to look into it. They looked into it. They couldn't determine that any under-the-table payments had been made."
At the TAC executive committee meeting on Sept. 6, Scandurra was named the commissioner of the TAC/LDR Grand Prix prize-money circuit.
Scandurra sees no conflict between his two roles. "Why not?" he said. "I am for open running. But if someone breaks the law, that's something else."
Rodgers said, "It boggles the mind."
Which is one way to describe the current status of the sport and the negotiations over the Grand Prix proposal. Representatives of ARRA and TAC met in Chicago the day after Lebow's announcement that New York would not go Grand Prix. According to Church Galford, attorney for ARRA, some progress was made, with the TAC representatives agreeing in principle to equal prize money for men and women. The original proposal, obtained by The Washington Post from sources affiliated with neither ARRA or TAC, called for the prize money to be split 75 percent for the men, 25 percent for the women.
At the same meeting, Don Kardong, a spokesman for ARRA said, Cassell and Scandurra "made veiled threats" that there could be serious consequences for athleltes who now take under-the-table money. "I think they were trying to tell us if athletes take money this time, this time they'll do something about it," Kardong said.
Asked why, he replied, "I'm just guessing that they are irritated that we haven't gone along with them."
Another source who attended the meeting said, "It was more than veiled threats. They indicated they would go after a couple of people."
cassell said, "It's totally untrue. There were no threats."
There is agreement on one point: it is difficult to say with certitude exactly what is happening in the sport, or is likely to happen in the next weeks and months.
But the events that brought the sport to this juncture are clear. Jeff Darman, former president of the Road Runners Club of America said, "The problems with the Olympic boycott last year, the publication of the prize money structure in New York that everyone knew about and the first professional race in Atlantic City (on Sept. 20), forced TAC to do something, and the organization of the athletes into a union-type organization. There was also the inevitability of an idea whose time has come."
On the surface, it appears that after a year of haggling and organizing, the athletes have achieved the status quo, not their ultimate goal but preferable temporarily to a proposal they say is as corrupt as the current system.
The ARRA considers Lebow's decision not to go Grand Prix a victory. "I felt it would kill it (the Grand Prix)," said Kardong. "But it's like a vampire, you have to hold it down and put a stake through its heart."
No new races have been announced as part of the circuit since the inaugural race, the Diet Pepsi 10-kilometer, Oct. 4 at Purchase, N.Y. Cassell says the circuit is alive and well and that new events will be announced "within the next two weeks."
The controversy over the proposal focuses on two issues: how the money will be paid to the athletes, and who will control the sport.
"Control is the primary issue," Kardong said. The proposal calls for an eight-man commission, operated and appointed by TAC officials, to oversee the circuit. Two of the eight members would be active athletes. The ARRA is demanding at least 50 percent representation on a commission that would operate independently of TAC.
But the composition of the commission only hints at the broader issues: will the runners control their own destiny, as well as the money available to the sport (The proposal calls for TAC to receive 7 1/2 percent of each prize-money purse, as well as $5,000 in the event of a national championship).
"It's a power play," says Bjorklund. "They don't want to give up one iota of the sport now that they've discovered it."
Scandurra and Cassell maintain that the ARRA represents only a fraction of their consitituency, 60,000 runners, who must be represented on the commission; that it is their duty, as the national governing body, to oversee the experiment, which the IAAF has entrusted to them.
"Who should control the sport?" asked Scandurra. "The people that built it. It's absolutely degrading that after so many years of building the sport, suddenly the money comes in and they (the athletes) get these great ideas. they're going to run the sport."
"Just because you're a runner," he said, "doesn't mean you're a thinker."
According to Galford, the ultimate goal is a system of competion in which runners could choose between a professional and an amateur status and compete side by side, without sanction, as tennis players do. But a radical change in amateurism would also radically change the role of TAC.
Darman believes that the Grand Prix proposal, which requires runners to be members of TAC member clubs in order to be eligible for receiving prize money "is to give TAC a reason for being, a role as a middleman."
The proposal calls for prize money to be paid to clubs, and for the clubs to pass those funds on to the club members, as "subventions" (subsidies) for training, medical, and travel expenses, and as broken time payments for lost income, in accordance with IAAF rules.
The athletes want a guarantee that if first prize money is $10,000 that an athlete will receive $10,000. Cassell said, "We can't provide that. If they want that, they should go on a professional tour."
According to Scandurra, the system was never intended to reimburse athletes, "on a one-to-one basis."
But, the athletes say, they are told a different story by others connected with the Grand Prix.
Lebow said, "Basically, the money is going to the clubs. It's a technicality, just a way to appease everybody. I agree with the runners that the money should go directly to them. But it's a fact of life in 1980 that we're not going to be able to achieve everything. So give it to the clubs and somehow, I'm sure it will get to the athletes or the athletes will find other clubs."
Galford says that under the proposal, the clubs "become a laundering device for the money and the athletes are still in the position of having to use creative bookkeeping of all sorts to make a living.
"They say they'll look the other way when the clubs distribute it. That puts the TAC in the position of either lying to the IAAF, saying they are going to enforce the rules, or to the runners, saying they are not."
The biggest problem now for the athletes is that while there is a consensus of where it is they want to go -- open -- they do not necessarily agree on how to get there, or what time to leave. They conceded that there may come a time when they will have to break openly with TAC and declare themselves professional. The negotiations and the disagreements continue even as gilford explores the possibilities of legal action, or sponsorship of an ARRA tour.
Tom Wysocki, a young runner from Las Vegas, placed seventh in the Diet Pepsi 10-kilmeter and expects to be receiving his $650 check soon. "Most of the people who boycotted make more money in three races than I make in a year," he said. "I don't think they've given it a chance.
Bill Rogers disputes Wysocki's contention but remains optimistic that a deal will be worked out this winter. It is too early to go pro, he said. "Marathoners have a lot of patience," he said.
Floto says he'd jump right now if there were a viable alternative. "There are those who don't care if they have to launder their money and resort to tricky bookkeeping, as long as they get their money," he said. "Either the bottom line is principle and we work to have a clearly defined system of rules. bOr the bottome line is money.I prefer to make it a coherent system of rules."