Arien O’Connell Did Not Win the Nike Women’s Marathon in 2008
Arien O’Connell undeniably ran the fastest time at the Nike Women’s Marathon back in 2008. She had a tremendous race and she ran a 12 minute PR, and now she also has a great story to tell her friends.
What Arien did not do, however, was win the race. Just because she ran 11 minutes faster than her next closest competitor, she was not the first woman to cross the finish line. The actual winner of the marathon was Nora Colligan.
Should there have been a 20 minute head start for the “elite” women? Probably not. Should some of those “elite” women have signed up as elites? Probably not. Should Arien have signed up as an elite? Questionable.
The fact remains, however, that there was an elite field, that for whatever reason did have a 20 minute head start, and the rules pertain to the first person to cross the line. Nora crossed it 9 minutes before Arien did.
Nike and the city of San Francisco have thankfully used this fiasco to improve the management of their race in the following years, and they did make good by offering Arien a complementary first place designation along with the prizes that come with first. Thankfully, they did not take the win away from Nora since she was in fact the one that won the race.
The elite start is a mainstay of large marathons, usually to allow the women a chance to shine and to make it easy for media vehicles to follow them so that they do not get lost in the crowd. However, the Nike race failed to draw an actual elite group of women to race, otherwise they wouldn’t have been beaten to the line despite a 20 minute head start.
A quick search on a few of the women in the elite field returns recent marathon times ranging from low to high 3 hour races. With nothing to go on other than an elite designation, Arien is nowhere close to being an elite runner, nor are most of the women that started in the elite corral.
To get around this problem, Nike finally acknowledged that the race is predominantly run by women with only 15 men in the top 50 finishers, and they did away with an elite start 20 minutes ahead of the rest of the field and just let them race it out the normal way.