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Boston is now officially a marathoning 'major'

As if the Boston Marathon weren't prestigious enough, race organizers have upped the ante and announced that it will become part of a five-race series over two years for which the men's and women's champions will receive $500,000 each.

To be called the World Marathon Majors, the series will include races in Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City, with the idea of raising the profile of running.

The Olympics and World Championship also will count in the series, which begins April 17 with the Boston Marathon.

Runners will get points for placing among the top five in each race -- 25 points for a win, down to 1 point for fifth.

Runners have to compete in three races over two years to be eligible for the prize, and if they run more, only their top four results will count.

The series is designed to be similar to the majors in golf and tennis, or the NASCAR ''Chase for the Cup" series.

''It's an exciting development for Boston and for all marathons and races," said Guy Morse, executive director of the Boston Marathon. ''Running is enjoying a boom in competition, and this gives spectators something else to cheer for."

He said the idea to limit the amount of races was ''to keep the integrity of the sport and athletes." In other words, runners won't have to compete in an unrealistic amount of marathons a year.

The current setup calls for each race to contribute $200,000 to the prize money; if a sponsor comes on board, the prize could grow to $1 million for the male and female winners.

Morse said the race directors have been working on this concept for years, and things became formalized at last year's World Championships in Helsinki.

''All the races are independent, and Boston will remain the same," Morse said.

''I feel like for the first time that our efforts have been recognized," said Paul Tergat, the marathon world record-holder. ''We feel that we need to have this kind of competition."

After Boston this year, the London Marathon is scheduled for April 23, the Berlin race is Sept. 24, Chicago Oct. 22, and New York Nov. 5.

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