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ING NYC Marathon Axes Rabbits
By David Monti
(c) 2007 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
Editor's Note: David Monti is the ING NYC Marathon Elite Athlete Coordinator

NEW YORK (03-May) -- In an effort to further emphasize head-to-head competition and bare-knuckled racing tactics, the organizers of the ING New York City Marathon announced today that men's and women's pacemakers would be eliminated from the 38th edition of the world's largest marathon set for Sunday, Nov. 4.

The decision was announced on a conference call originated here by race director Mary Wittenberg, the president and CEO of New York Road Runners, the Manhattan-based not-for-profit which organizes the race.  Wittenberg said that the idea of dropping pacemakers, routinely used by nearly all major commercial marathons, had been debated internally for several years, and that the time was right to remove them.

"I'm pleased to announce today on the behalf of New York Road Runners a race management decision that will help build our great athletes and our great sport," said Wittenberg.  She continued: "We have decided on what we think is best for our athletes, our sport: to move to 26.2 miles of suspense, rather than what has been a very structured race carrying our athletes to the 25-K mark."

Pacemakers have been used in major marathons since the late 1980's to help assure a fast pace and, on the best days, set world records.  Each of the last four men's world records were set with the help of pacemaking, including Paul Tergat's current world standard of 2:04:55 set at Berlin in 2003.  In that race two pacemakers, Titus Munji and Sammy Korir, carried the Kenyan all the way to the finish line, with Korir finishing just one second behind Tergat.

But the situation at New York is vastly different.  The challenging course, with it's tall bridges, serpentine hills, and uneven pavement, isn't well suited for record setting, and the pacemakers in New York were used primarily to calm the race down rather than drag it forward.  Only one athlete, Tesfaye Jifar of Ethiopia, has broken 2:08 in New York, while that barrier has been broken in other places 168 times.

"Let's face it, were not going for a world record in New York," said 2004 ING New York City Marthon champion Hendrick Ramaala of South who participated in the conference call from his home in Johannesburg.  "New York is a hard course."

Wittenberg had become particularly concerned about the impact pacemakers were having on television coverage.  Not only do they block the view of the race's top contenders, she said, but serve as a distraction for commentators and audiences, alike.  Wittenberg believes that although the elimination of the pacemakers would place an extra burden on the contenders, that the top-caliber athletes who run New York would be up to the task, just as they would at an Olympic Games or World Championships.

"We think our marahton is full of the best mararoners in the world, and we think that these athletes deserve to be center starge," said Wittenberg.  She added: "These athletes can race."

Ramaala, who also finished second in New York in 2005 by just 3/10ths of a second to Tergat, agreed with Wittenberg.  Pacing took away some of the tactics that an athlete had to call upon, including making an early break.

"In a paced race... you are bound to follow the pacemaker," said Ramaala.  "You are sitting there waiting.  You can't run away or break away.  If you want to make a move at 15-k or 10 miles... you'll look like a spoiler."

Ramaala also said that the lack of pacers would not necessarily translate into slow finish times.  "I think it will allow us to express ourselves," he said.  "Having no pacemakers doesn't necessarily mean slow times. You may be surprised."

Within the five races of the World Marathon Majors, Berlin, Chicago and London all use pacemakers and are likely to continue to do so.  Boston had never adopted pacemaking, at least officially.  Wittenberg did not see the decision at New York as having any impact on those other races in terms of their use of pacemakers.

"I think this is a classic area where we are all diffrent races," she said.  She also said, "I don't see us moving in concert on this issue."

Wittenberg confirmed that her race would continue to offer a "generous" schedule of time bonuses to encourage fast times.  However, the emphasis would be on taking New York's coveted title, not what the clock reads when the winner gets to the finish.

"When push comes to shove, athletes come here to win," she said.

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