Organizers of the annual Perrier Cherry Blossom 10-mile run are seriously considering making next year's race a prize-money event. The race, which begins Sunday at 8:30 a.m., paid travel expenses totaling about $3,000 to 13 runners for the first time this year, its first concession to the changing nature of road running.
"We hope to be able to go for prize money next year," said race director Phil Stewart. "We feel this is the direction the sport is going."
The Cherry Blossom's policy has been to never pay appearance fees or under-the-table prize money to attract name runners. There is no entry fee for the 4,500 runners scheduled to participate in the 11th annual race. The race relies on Perrier, the sponsor for the last six years, for its budget, which Stewart says is between $30,000 to 40,000.
Stewart said, "We want to maintain both traditions: no entry fee and high-caliber competition. We don't want the race to be for the elite runners and have the middle-of-the-pack runners subsidizing them. In order to attract top runners, many races are going to a prize-money structure. We would like to follow suit."
Stewart said there have been preliminary discussions with Perrier officials about the possibility of offering prize money. None of the races sponsored by Perrier, including the New York City Marathon and the Perrier Falmouth Road Race, offers over-the-table prize money.
Race organizers stressed that this is not "an either/or" situation for Perrier, with whom they have a good relationship. "There is even the possibility of cosponsorship if it is acceptable to them," Stewart said.
Barbara Long, director of marketing for Perrier, said, "We'll look at this year's event and see how it comes out. It's something definitely we'll have to talk about for next year.
"I can't say whether I do agree with the change philosophically or not. I wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardize the participatory spirit of the race for all levels of runners, which has been part of the character of the race."
The decision to offer limited travel expenses was made because race organizers felt the quality of the field had diminished a bit last year. Although Stewart says this year's field, which includes Bill Rodgers and Greg Meyer, is the best ever, "there is competition for top runners" with other races.
The Crescent City Classic 10-kilometer, which takes place in New Orleans Sunday, charges an $8 to $10 entry fee for all 15,000 runners and pays appearance money to some top runners. According to race director Mac deVaughn, the race budget this year is about $250,000. Mike Musyoki, Craig Virgin, Henry Rono, Suleiman Nyambui, Anne Audain, Joan Benoit and Wendy Sly will compete.