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Kristiansen still standard for Boston

By Barbara Huebner, Globe Staff, 04/07/99

year ago, the day before the Boston Marathon, Tegla Loroupe broke the legendary Ingrid Kristiansen's 13-year-old world record by finishing the Rotterdam Marathon in 2 hours 20 minutes 47 seconds.

Or did she?

Not according to the Boston Athletic Association. When the women leave the starting line in Hopkinton April 19, it will be Kristiansen's time of 2:21:06 they will be chasing to claim the race's $50,000 world-best bonus.

Tegla Laroupe
Tegla Laroupe broke Ingrid Kristiansen's world marathon record for women last April, but some say she received "unfair assistance," including a male pacesetter (left) throughout the race. (AP photo)

''Tegla's time at Rotterdam, while extraordinary, we feel was way over the edge in terms of outside aid and support,'' said race director Guy Morse, following the lead of USA Track & Field, which has declined to recognize it as the world record.

''We consider the time by Tegla to be one in which she received unfair assistance,'' explained Ryan Lamppa, statistician for USATF. ''We don't want to penalize Tegla, but we think it was such an extreme case of assistance we felt we needed to draw the line.''

The controversy over Loroupe's performance erupted almost immediately after she crossed the finish line in a race that was geared toward producing a world record for both Loroupe and her male counterpart, Spain's Fabian Roncero. When Roncero's effort fell short, all eyes fell on the 25-year-old Kenyan who finished second in Boston in 1996 when Uta Pippig won after a heroic comeback in the last 1 1/2 miles.

Because there are no international standards for marathon rules, or records for either men or women, much less consensus on whether women should even be allowed to set world records in races that include men, the issue is not likely to be resolved soon. Neither the International Amateur Athletics Federation nor the Association of International Marathons and Road Races ratify world records for races run on the roads rather than the track.

''There is no quality leadership at the international level where the races can look to for a set of criteria that are defensible,'' said Morse. ''It certainly would be helpful in this case.''

In this case, Loroupe's ''unfair assistance'' came, according to Lamppa and others, on three fronts: She was paced from start to finish by at least two male Kenyan runners; she was handed fluids rather than having to fetch them for herself; and, in the latter stages of the race, she was given instructions, information, and encouragement from race director Jos Hermens as he rode alongside on a motorcycle.

''That would not happen in our country based on our rules,'' said Lamppa.

In the United States, some pacing - even by men of women - is considered acceptable. But assistance in either getting refreshments or information that would afford an advantage over one's competitors is not.

For Loroupe, the men who set the pace for her also shielded the diminutive Kenyan from the wind, allowing her to draft off them as would a bicyclist. They relayed her ''split times,'' or the time it took her to run each mile, so she would know if she needed to speed up to stay on a record pace. They handed her fluids, which meant she didn't have to battle the crowds, risking jostling and using up energy, to get to the tables that held her drinks. These were all advantages her competitors didn't have.

''To have help to do everything during the race, that is not good,'' said Kristiansen, who acknowledges that she was paced by men until the halfway mark of her world-record run in 1985 but said she did the rest on her own.

Tellingly, even though neither the IAAF nor AIMS designate times as world records (or world bests, as road performances are often designated to take into account the differences in degree of difficulty one course to another), both have indicated they would look askance at Loroupe's mark.

''The IAAF regrets that this `let's-have-a-record-at-whatever-cost' attitude casts doubt on Tegla Loroupe's otherwise admirable performance,'' said IAAF general secretary Istvan Gyulai in a statement. ''Clearly, if there existed official world records in road races, Loroupe's time would not be ratified. So it remains `only' a world best performance, a questionable one, although this is not Loroupe's fault.''

AIMS, while recognizing and lauding her time as the fastest in history, stops short of calling it either a world record or a world best.

One way around the assistance question, some people think, is for women's records to be set solely in women-only races, or races such as London in which women start 30 minutes before the men. Lamppa is one of them.

''At some point the sport will evolve into that,'' he said. ''I think that makes sense. Then there will be no question (of unfair assistance).

Because the women run separately in the London Marathon, that event is using still another world-record standard. Although race officials did not return phone calls seeking clarification, it is known the race was trying to decide between the 2:21:46 run by Japan's Naoko Takahashi in the women-only Asian Games marathon last December, run point-to-point, or Romanian Lidia Simon's 2:23:24 in the Osaka Women's Marathon last January, which is run on a loop course.

As a result of the chaos, said Morse, there might be no world records at all.

''In the final analysis, the sport might determine that each competition is so unique that you should not compare,'' he said. ''That's an option that makes sense if there is no consensus.''

Ironically, at least one observer thinks Loroupe - who has a 2:23:46 to her credit in the all-women's Osaka last January as well as a 2:22:07 in Rotterdam two years ago - will break the world record anyway.

''She can make it again,'' said Kristiansen. ''If she is good enough to run with rabbits, she can do it by herself. Train one or two more years and she can make it.''

This story ran on page F07 of the Boston Globe on 04/07/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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