Radcliffe to keep record, but new pacemaking rule will stand

Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 will remain as the official world record for the women’s marathon

Posted on November 10, 2011 by
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Paula Radcliffe (Mark Shearman)

Two months ago the IAAF said they would reduce Paula Radcliffe’s marathon world record to a ‘world best’ as it used male pacemakers, but following a recent meeting between Radcliffe and the world governing body of athletics, the IAAF has now decided to allow the performance to stand as an official world record.

The rule change was introduced at the IAAF council meeting in Daegu during the World Championships. Radcliffe was one of several athletes to speak out, while even New York Marathon organiser Mary Wittenburg – who also serves on IAAF’s road running commission – acknowledged the inconsistencies.

“To call one accomplishment a ‘world best’ and another ‘a world record’ only leaves the public befuddled,” said Wittenburg at the time.

The rule was also met with fierce opposition online. A facebook group entitled “Restore Paula Radcliffe’s Marathon World Record” quickly grew to more than 2000 followers, while Radcliffe’s sponsor Nike fronted a “history stands” campaign that gathered a lot of support on twitter.

Radcliffe set her marathon world record in 2003 with a performance of 2:15:25, almost three minutes faster than any other woman has ever managed to run. The Briton had men running alongside her, laid on by the race organisers as pacemakers as no other women in the world were fast enough for the job.

Radcliffe made a point of never running behind the two Kenyan men and instead treated them as opponents. Nevertheless it was defined as a mixed race, and under the new rule put forward in September, the IAAF would only deem it as a “world best” as they felt running alongside men provides an unfair advantage compared to all-women races.

But following such feedback and the meeting with Radcliffe, the IAAF will now keep Radcliffe’s performance as the official world record. But in future for any performance to now count as a world record, it must be set in a women-only race.

“The record will stay. Nobody will cancel the record of Paula. That is sure,” said IAAF Council member Helmut Digel. “Her record will never be diminished.”

He added that the IAAF was taken aback by the vehemence of the protests, and that the rule wasn’t meant to diminish previous performances.

“It was not against old records at all. We realize that these performances were excellent performances,” he said, adding that the IAAF may work out a system whereby records in mixed races could stand alongside records in women-only races.

The issue for the IAAF is that Radcliffe ran the London race with male pacemakers, which the governing body says makes for an unfair edge compared to all-women races. Now, the IAAF is expected to work out a system where the records in mixed races could stand side-by-side with records in all-women races. “The terminology has not been decided yet.”

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