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Bay to Bakers Joins Battle of Sexes
By David Monti
(c) 2006 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
May 19, 2006
The ING Bay to Breakers became the lastest U.S. road race to add a gender-based challenge where a special prize will be awarded to the first athlete, male or female, to cross the finish line in a format where the men attempt to catch the elite women who have been given a head start.
The long-running San Francisco event, which will celebrate it's 95th edition on Sunday, May 21, announced the new format via a press release yesterday, calling it the "Battle of the Breakers" bonus. Held over a 12-K race distance, the women will depart four minutes and 40 seconds ahead of the men, and the first athlete across the finish line will pocket a $25,000 bonus in addition to the $7,000 first prize which both the top man and top woman will receive.
The $32,000 check which will go to the winner of the Battle of the Breakers bonus will be the largest first prize in U.S. road racing for a non-marathon event.
The ING Bay to Breakers now joins the Gate River Run 15-K (Jacksonville, Fla.), City of Los Angeles Marathon, New Las Vegas Marathon, and Dallas White Rock Marathon with a gender-based handicap format. The headstart is based on the exact difference between the course records: 33:42 by Ismail Kirui of Kenya set in 1993, and 38:22 set by Asmae Leghzaoui of Morocco last year.
Several other prominent U.S. road races, including the BAA Boston Marathon, Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile, and ING New York City Marathon, also have an early start for the elite women, but for the completely different purpose of ensuring that the women run only against each other and are not hidden within, or interfered with by, the men.
The race also announced another bonus of $5,000 for the first man and woman who crest Hayes Street Hill, a steep 11.5% climb between Fillmore and Steiner Streets which reaches its highest point at the 4 km (2.5 mile) point on the course. To collect that bonus, an athlete must also finish in the top-20 of their gender.
With prize money and various bonuses, one athlete could earn as much as $37,000 in prize money and bonuses.
The women appear to have the advantage at this event. That's because the women's course record is weaker than the men's. The men's record is equivalent to a 27:44 10-K, while the women's is only equivalent to a 31:34 (converted times give a clearer picture because the 12-K distance is so rare). Men have run 27:44 or faster 58 times in history (excluding en route times), while women have run 31:34 or faster a 85 times.
Given the starting fields announced by the organizers, there is little doubt that the race will come down to a battle between Kenya's Gilbert Okari and Morocco's Leghzaoui, both of whom are defending champions. Okari, largely regarded as the best all-purpose road racer competing in the United States, has already won four races this year, and is coming off of a dominant victory at the Lilac Bloomsday 12-K last weekend. Leghzaoui has won two road races this year, but has not raced since her DNF at the Paris International Marathon on April 9.
The ING Bay to Breakers is one of the largest road races in the world with some 40,000 registered runners, but tens of thousands more who take part unofficially, many in costumes, and some without clothes.
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