I recently read a blog post by a well-liked, highly regarded elite ultrarunner who discusses the emerging trend of big prize purses in the sport. As Exhibit A, he points to the North Face Endurance Challenge Championship, a 50-mile race in San Francisco that offers $10,000 to the winner and attracts the sport's best from around the world. In ultrarunning, $10,000 is a huge purse but, to The North Face, it's pocket change. This particular ultrarunner keeps a really awesome blog and always shares a well-informed perspective on things, and so his opinion on the state of things in the sport definitely carries weight. You can read his post here.
|Marion Jones, a five-time Olympic medalist sprinter, was busted for PED use during the BALCO investigation. She has forfeited all medals and now lives in disgrace.|
At the end of the day, it's usually about money. Decisions, motivations, behaviors--they usually center around money. Why has The North Face put up a $10,000 prize at the San Francisco race? Because the company sees the race as an opportunity to grow its brand and...make money.In the past few years, the veil of secrecy has been lifted off professional cycling, baseball, and track and field, exposing the alarming influence of performance-enhancers (curiously, football has somehow evaded this exposure despite the fact that it's plain as day that steroids are a HUGE problem in the sport). Marion Jones. Mark McGwire. Floyd Landis. (Update: Add 2010 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador to the list; he, too, was busted for PEDs and may have his 2010 Tour win wiped from the record books.) They--and many others--have all been exposed as performance-enhancing drug (PED) users. They've been disgraced. But guess what? They're also millionaires.
|Eddie Hellebuyck was once near the top of the sport of marathoning. A dominant master's runner, he tested positive for EPO in 2004 and for years denied that he took PEDs. But then recently he spilled his guts to Runner's World, admitting to EPO use.|
If big purses invade the sport of ultrarunning, and unfortunately it's already happening, what's going to stop a new crop of unscrupulous individuals--greedy money-chasers like Marion Jones, Mark McGwire, and Floyd Landis--from taking EPO, HGH and whatever to finish first, collect the cash and move on to the next race?
I don't really worry about the current crop of superstars falling prey to PEDs--they're doing it the right way and are good people from what I understand. Instead, I worry about money chasers invading the sport and doing whatever they have to--taking PEDs, cutting the course, etc.--to win the cash. And what would stop them? Ultrarunning doesn't test for PEDs! But let's for a second put ourselves in the honest athletes' shoes. How would they react if they're training the right way and yet being beaten by juicers who can run at a sick pace up big climbs thanks to EPO, and quickly move onto the next race without skipping a beat thanks to the regenerative power of HGH?
It would be the end of ultrarunning as we know it. Or maybe the end is here...or fast approaching?
Put a lot of money on the table and people will do crazy things to get it.
Don't for a second think ultrarunning is above all of this.