|Tuesday, September 30
Equal prize money unrealistic
By Jeff Hollobaugh
Special to ESPN.com
A point of debate that used to come up when I worked in the track magazine business was whether all events were created equal. After long and tangled deliberations involving the use of e-mail rather than walking 10 feet to the next office to have an actual conversation, we would usually decide no. That is, while events might be equal in some idealistic, space-organizing sort of way, they don't end up that way in the marketplace.
That bothers some people.
It's kind of hard to say that all events are equal when you see Justin Gatlin winning $500,000 for running 100 meters in a 10.05 in Moscow and Paul Tergat winning $92,000 (not counting appearance money) for running a world record marathon in Berlin. You do the math.
Okay, so you won't do the math. You probably think that's what I get paid for.
Fine. So I'll do the math. Tergat, in his two-hours-plus worth of work on Sunday, earned something like $44,191 an hour. Gatlin, at least for those few moments, was earning $1.79 billion an hour. And you can't tell me that Gatlin deserves it because he works harder in training. A sprinter may work faster, but a sprinter most definitely does not work longer or harder in training than the world's fastest marathoner.
This might not be a fair example. There are not many (any) track meets that pay out what the Moscow extravaganza did. I'm still not sure where all the money came from and will be watching to see whether the checks clear the bank.
Still, you get the point. Track and field pays a lot more for top sprinters than it does for top distance runners. That's not the injustice, though. If the top distance runners start griping about money, I suspect the women's throwers would consider killing them and burying them in shallow graves near minor European villages.
And if the women's throwers start griping, I think the racewalkers would have a legitimate grudge. (But they wouldn't be able to hurt the throwers, not in a fair fight.)
As my cohorts and I decided long ago, all events are not equal. The mass of men who lead lives of quiet desperation simply do not care as much about some events as others. And it's ridiculous for athletes in those events to expect reporters and muckrakers such as myself to try to rectify the situation for them by granting them equal time in the media.
If the exciting, world-record racewalking we saw at the recent World Championships didn't drive fans in droves out to watch the walks, could articles in magazines and on the Web do such a thing? Heck, the racewalking world should chip in and buy a fabulous gift for whoever it was who measured the World Championships race courses, but they shouldn't expect us to trumpet their glories.
Nasty about the walks, perhaps I am. But I'm pretty sure my last walker readers lost their patience with me long ago. They haven't flamed me in a while.
Beating up on walkers isn't my point here. I'll leave such pleasures to the women's throwers. No, my point is that we have a plethora of events in track and field, up to 48 counting women's events separately and depending on which championship you are looking at. If you try to do everything equally, things just don't work because that's not what the fans want. And sometimes, it's not what the athletes seemingly want. I remember the joy of trying to do 50-deep performer lists for Track & Field News years ago. We couldn't even find 50 people in the country in a given year who tried certain events!
Heck, even track and field are not equal components. No yin and yang here. If you don't agree, try telling people you're going to a field meet next time. You will find yourself in an explanation, and possibly, an actual conversation.
People pay for what they want to see. That's harsh, but it's life. Merit doesn't matter. Look at the entertainment scene for proof (Britney fans, take umbrage), and to remind yourself what planet you live on. Paul Tergat should be glad he got the money he got; he's beating most of us.
Jeff Hollobaugh, former managing editor of Track and Field News, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.