Using record-breaking cash jackpots to attract record-setting runners, the upstart Chicago Marathon this Sunday will make a strong bid to replace the rival New York City Marathon as the nation's premier long-distance autumn racing event.
The race offers $250,000 in prizes plus thousands of extra dollars in "appearance" money and other payments for the best-known competitors. While the prize totals are similar to those of the New York race, which will be run Oct. 28, the overall package of payments here exceeds anything available to marathoners up to now, according to several persons knowledgeable in the burgeoning business of paid running.
The race, officially called "America's Marathon/Chicago 1984" has sent shock waves throughout the highly competitive world of long-distance running because of the size of the prizes and guarantees, and the brash way in which the field of well-known athletes has been assembled at the expense of the much better-known New York Marathon.
Acceptance of Chicago-style marathoning seems to mark another important moment in the pell-mell emergence of distance running as an openly professional sport.
Among the internationally famed marathoners due to compete here are Carlos Lopes of Portugal, winner of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics marathon; Rob de Castella of Australia, winner of the 1981 Fukuoka (Japan) and 1983 Rotterdam marathons; Geoff Smith, British winner of the 1984 Boston Marathon and second in last year's New York race, and Juma Ikangaa of Tanzania, winner of the 1984 Tokyo Marathon and sixth at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
The women's field includes Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway, winner of the 1984 London Marathon and fourth in the 1984 Olympics; Jacqueline Gareau of Canada, second in the 1983 Chicago race, and Rosa Mota of Portugal, 1983 Chicago winner and a bronze medalist at Los Angeles.
No runner who competes here will have recovered sufficiently to compete in the New York race.
Joan Benoit, who won the nation's heart with her stylish victory in the first women's marathon at the Summer Olympics, is entered, but is a doubtful starter.
Many other runners of either great promimse or past triumph are among the more than 10,000 who will start the 26.2-mile course at 9:45 a.m. (EDT) at Daley Plaza in the Loop. The top 20 male finishers and top 15 female finishers will split the cash purse of $250,000, with first-place winners in each category guaranteed $35,000. The race is sponsored by Beatrice Companies Inc., a Chicago-based food and consumer products marketer.
Beatrice will pay the airfares and hotel bills for the top 85 runners invited. Together with promotional deals, a well-known runner who wins here could earn about $80,000, a race organizer estimated. The extra money would come from a media tour, running clinics, photo sessions, etc.
Under rules of The Athletics Congress (TAC), the national governing organization for track and field, money from prizes, endorsements, clinics and the like is put in trust for the athletes, who can draw on it for training and expenses. "In reality, if someone wants a Cadillac for 'practice,' he gets it," said one knowledgeable source of this arrangement.
The size and depth of Chicago's field of runners is unusual for a race that is only 8 years old and that until now has attracted far smaller crowds and attention than either the venerable Boston Marathon or the massive New York run, the dominant marathons in this country.
This race's emergence is traceable to several factors that are part of the profound changes taking place in the way such amateur events are organized, paid for and run. The ingredients include giant conglomerate Beatrice's desire to shed its corporate anonymity; the desire of dedicated, world-class athletes to be paid world-class sums for competing in a sport so exhausting they can seriously attempt it relatively few times a year, and the need of television for sports entertainment.
Last but by no means least are the loyalties and rivalries within the relatively small but influential international cadre of elite distance runners. This aspect might have as much to do with the Chicago versus New York confrontation as anything else.
The men responsible for attracting runners to each city at the expense of the other are longtime rivals in lining up talented athletes. They are Bob Bright, executive director of the Chicago event since 1982, and Fred Lebow, president of the New York Road Runners Club, and longtime organizer of the New York race. Each man has assiduously cultivated friends among the coaches, guides and actual competitors who draw crowds of spectators to the race route. Each has a following of admirers -- and detractors -- within the racing community.
"Chicago is making a heck of a run for it in terms of trying to dump New York," said Jeff Darman, a longtime long-distance running observer. "Bob Bright has a check book that won't quit. He can bring in good people. He can get runners who might not do well, but he can take a chance that they will. And he can get people he doesn't want to race in New York.
"Big marathons are a competition, as in anything else. Fred Lebow is the king. Bob Bright wants to be the king and now he's getting close. Now he's got Fred on the run. Fred's hurting this year."
Says Bright: "Both races (New York and Chicago) have comparable budgets -- about $1.3 million for absolutely everything. But what New York got is outmaneuvered. We recruited before the Olympics. We tell people what is happening going into the race. New York uses deceptive practices -- they pay but they don't pay openly. They use voodoo economics. And the runners are tired of it."
Lebow retorts: "Obviously, certain runners who would have run in New York are running in Chicago. We've made a choice not to have a bidding war with Chicago. We don't believe it's good for the sport. I believe that a bidding war benefits only some of the runners -- and mostly their agents. It doesn't help the rank and file."
In his recently published book, "Inside the World of Big-Time Marathoning," Lebow conceded paying more than $1 million secretly to marathon winners and top finishers over the years. The book caused a furor, triggering a demand from New York Mayor Edward Koch that the marathon pay for security and cleanup services. A contract was agreed to earlier this week.
Alvin Chriss, TAC trust administrator, observed, "Both races put a disproportionate amount of money up front, but New York has a full calendar of running events through the year. This hasn't happened yet in Chicago. Beatrice is serving its own purposes and TAC applauds it. But they are not yet the sport's purposes."