In the already male-dominated world of athletics, the sport closest to my heart took an archaic step backwards last month to the days where men and women were not considered equal and must remain separate. From the pent-up ivory towers of the International Athletic Association Federation (IAAF), a group, largely bulked by men, passed an impromptu motion that would only recognize women's world records from performances in all-women's races. Record times that emerged from mixed races are now only considered "world bests." The new rules, partly designed to counter the impact of men serving as pacemakers for women in order to achieve quicker times, means that Radcliffe's 2003 marathon mark of two hours fifteen minutes 25 seconds is no longer a women's world record. Her performance is considered one of the greatest in history and the equivalent of Usain Bolt's 100m mark of 9:58 seconds. Radcliffe, conversely, still owns the world record of 2:17:42 since that was set in a women's-only race in 2005. The IAAF claims that this change creates conditions "which as many athletes as possible can express their potential in competition and derive the maximum benefit from the sport in the country of every IAAF Member Federation."
Understandably, this doesn't sit well with the organizers of the top marathons in the world, where women and men run simultaneously. AIMS, the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races, criticizes the decision and are calling on the IAAF to reconsider and recognize the performances of women in mixed races as world records "when appropriate." Radcliffe, told Runner's World, "I think it is a decision that is going to be hard to fully enforce. Look at how many national and area records are set in mixed races."
To me, this is just going to create a lot of misunderstandings. Especially when some countries, like Canada, will consider national records that came from mixed races. Some countries say that the national records stand, and others are siding with the new ruling. I just don't understand how they think this is benefiting the sport. This is not track, where there are pretty much equal amounts of women's only events as men-only. For road racing, there are very few competitive all-women's marathons, the Olympics and world championships being the best known.
We need to encourage women to run faster and compete at high levels, not take away their chances. If women can perform better in a mixed environment, then these conditions should be promoted, not taken away. This move is a step backwards to the days when women weren't allowed to compete in marathons at all.
Personally, I run road races, and yes, I have "paced" off of some guys; but not because they were guys, because they were good runners who happened to be going my pace. I would have done it regardless of what gender they are. In my mind, once you lace up the running shoes, a 4 minute kilometer, is a 4 minute kilometer. I've trained with guys as well; again, because I was the only female at practise that day. Should I have just worked out by myself instead? Was I not worthy enough to run with them? Running together allows runners to bond and push our sport as a whole to run faster, improve competition, and expand our limits. The developed camaraderie amongst runners makes the communal better. Although the changes don't affect all women, because let's face it, we don't all run records, but it's the bigger picture that is the most disconcerting. Now, little girls who start to run are going to be taught and reinforced that we should remain separate from the boys and treated differently because we are the "inferior." How does this harbour a competitive and encouraging environment? What I also find odd, is that there are no changes to policy surrounding men's marathon records, presumably because in mixed races, the top men aren't running alongside female runners. In so many other sports we have girls showing that they can and do compete at high levels. Why, oh why, do we want to hold our women back? Since when has, in a sport purely based on time, has faster times become "too fast?" I for one hope this does not discourage women to aim for the top. We need to prove everyone wrong and continue to run as fast as we can- it's what the sport should be about.