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The IAAF has a Bunny Problem (not just in women’s marathoning)

October 18, 2011 – 10:57 AM

By Laura Pappano

The international track federation’s (IAAF) decision to nullify women’s marathon records from mixed-sex events reflects a crude double standard: Men can have rabbits; women can’t.

The use of pacesetters is common in running, from short track distances to marathons. Boston and New York no longer allow pacesetters, but many marathons do, including Chicago, London, Berlin, and Rotterdam. (New York used to, paying rabbits several thousand dollars to set the pace and then drop out at the 25K mark).

By framing the matter as a gender problem — women’s marathon records can only count in women’s-only events — the IAAF conveniently sidesteps the more controversial issue: Should rabbits be allowed?

Competitive sport has long relied on athletic challengers meant to set a pace or spur improved performance. It is part of bicycle and car racing. While use of male practice squads in women’s college basketball spurred debate several years ago, the NCAA decided to allow them. (BTW colleges, including Ohio State are looking for a players).

Does the practice provide an unfair advantage? If so, are we ready to apply the same standard to men’s records achieved with the aid of pacesetters?

That would be a blow to many, including Roger Bannister who ran his historic sub-four-minute mile in 1955 — with the help of two pacers.

Until we have female rabbits (a thought) it’s easy for the IAAF – as it was for opponents of male practice squad players – to argue that women are relying on physically large and speedy males to improve their own performance.

But then, aren’t male runners using rabbits doing the same thing? And let’s remember: Paula Radcliffe really did run a 2:15:25 marathon (and in 2003 when she did it, no British runner, female or male, ran faster).




  1. One Response to “The IAAF has a Bunny Problem (not just in women’s marathoning)”

  2. That isn’t what their decision says. During the announcement of this new policy a female IAAF director stated that women being paced by men in marathons had been running around two full minutes faster than those that were not paced by men in a mixed race or who were paced by women in a women only race. She also framed it as a fairness to women issue since there are more marathons now being run as women’s only hence the unfair advantage of prior times done by women in mixed marathons with male pacers.

    You missed the memo…we already have female rabbits. Do your research.

    Bannister was paced by men. No conflict.

    If Radcliffe ran faster than both men and women in England in 2003 that just means that they didn’t have a world class male marathoner running that year. Has nothing to do with the current conversation.

    Your lack of logic is legendary but even you should be able to understand why there is a 12 minute differential between the men’s and women’s world marathon records.

    Women just can’t run that fast. Sorry.

    By Bern on Oct 27, 2011

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