NAIROBI, Kenya, April 1- The World Marathon Majors (WMM) series organisers have decided to take the radical step of slashing prize money earned by Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes in a bid to encourage runners from other nations to excel.
In a move that echoes that taken by the Utrecht Marathon in 2011 that decided a Dutch winner would take 100 times more prize money, WMM organisers are keen to ‘spread the cake’ to as many nationalities as possible as outside the two East African neighbours.
“What we are hoping to achieve is to ensure the prize pool from our events is shared across the board to encourage athletes from other countries that train as hard as the East Africans to enjoy competing at our events.
“The new prize structures will be tailored to ensure that there is not much differential between the top finishers and the rest of the chasing pack with home runners given bigger incentives to perform,” Sneed O’Connell, a WMM official said late Sunday.
The Majors consists six of the most lucrative marathons on the planet including Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and lately, Tokyo marathons where a $1m (Sh86m) is shared out between the male and female winners of a two-year cycle competition in jackpot annually.
Kenyans have dominated the jackpot, with the men winning all editions of the WMM race since it was conceived in 2006 with Robert ‘Mwafrika’ Cheruiyot, Martin Lel, the late Samuel Wanjiru (twice), Emmanuel Mutai and now Geoffrey Mutai in the roll of honour.
Mary Keitany completed the Kenyan double when she clinched last season’s women’s jackpot.
Capital Sport contacted high profile athletes who are gearing to race in the forthcoming London and Boston marathon legs of the Majors later this month.
“I do not have the exact details but if it is true, this is not the way to go since it could seem a way of punishing success,” the reigning men’s Majors series winner, Geoffrey, who is preparing for his London Marathon debut expressed from his Korkitony training base.
“We win because of the effort we put through in training and the sacrifices we make in our lives. When we are preparing for these races, we go for a long time without our families, our businesses take a back seat and we punish our bodies.
“This is what they should consider since as Kenyans and our brothers the Ethiopians, we are not better than anyone else, it’s only that we put a bit more effort,” world record holder, Patrick Makau, who is also preparing for London, added.
World women’s marathon titleholder, Edna Kiplagat, termed the move simply as ‘unfair, if it is indeed what they are planning to do.’
Athletics Kenya (AK) president, Isaiah Kiplagat, alluded to a ‘conspiracy’ to cut down Kenyan distance runners to size as he called for African nations to come together and create their own lucrative events to counter the wave.
“It has nothing to do with the fact that our athletes are good. They killed the World Cross Country when they noticed it was becoming a Kenyan and Ethiopian affair and now this,” he alleged.
“In Poland the other day, the American and British teams won medals and it goes to show that with effort, athletes in Europe and US can succeed. We have many of them coming here to train and once they learn what we do to succeed, they do the same.
“We saw Mo Farah of Britain winning two gold medals at London Olympics after training in Iten. We are open to them doing what we do so they should not use success as the excuse to reduce prize money,” the IAAF Council Member added.
According to O’Connell, the new prize structures to be published next week ahead of the April 15 Boston and April 21 London marathons will see the total prize pool that includes course and time bonus appropriated to give home runners as well as athletes outside East Africa a larger share of the kitty.
“For instance, London has a prize pool of $313,000 (Sh27.231m) of which the winner gets about $68,900 (Sh6m).
“We are not looking at slashing course and time bonuses but the actual winning purse with a runner from Britain who wins London getting significantly more,” he added.
In 2011, organisers of the Utrecht Marathon came under fire when they decided that if a Dutchman wins, he gets the —100 ($142/Sh12,212) that goes to the first runner across the line but also a bonus of up to —10,000 ($14,200/Sh1.221m) “or more” depending on the contract incentives the organiser has with the runner.
Home runner, Michel Butter duly won the race breaking a four-year Kenyan winning streak.
John Mutai Kipkorir, having entered the race among the fun runners and led in the latter stages, was the runner-up and received a one-off 4,950 Euros payout from Nairobi based Dutch businessman Gert-Jan van Wijk for his performance.
Van Wijk was incensed by the direction taken by the race organiser, Louran van Keulen who claimed he took the step to review the prize money structure “to invest in grassroots sport and improve local facilities, with a long term plan to see Dutch runners challenge Africans at the top level.”