Few Run for a LivingPublished May 12, 2003 in The Post-Standard.
By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
Four times a year, the Road Running Information Center of USA Track and Field publishes "On the Roads", a thin glossy newsletter packed with information. Besides satisfying my thirst for numbers, "On the Roads" provides a quantitative summary of the state of the sport of running.
The 2003 Winter and Spring issues were no different than previous years, providing world and US road rankings for men and women in the open and masters divisions. They also included table after table of names, prizes and races.
The top money-maker in the world was Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie, with just over one million dollars in prize money in 2002. The top American prize-winner was Khalid Khannouchi with $447,250, on the strength of his victory at the Chicago Marathon and his world-record at the London Marathon.
Britain's Paula Radcliffe led the women with $557,000 in prize money in 2002, followed by Kenyan Catherine Ndereba with $195,500. Deena Drossin won most prize money among American women, totalling $97,615 in 2002.
Among masters runners, American Eddy Hellebuyck was the highest prize winner in the world with a total of $25,200 from eighteen races, ranging from $50 to $6,800. Ukranian Tatiana Pozdnyakova led the masters women with $50,150 in winning. Linda Somers Smith led American women with $15,500, thanks to a fifth place finish in the Twin Cities Marathon.
The story changed rapidly further down the list. One need not go too far to reach the US poverty level of $18,100 for a family of four. Jen Rhines was ranked eighth in prize winnings among American women with $15,715. Poverty was achieved a lot faster on the men's side, with Abdi Abdirahman ranking fifth with $15,935 in prizes. Even Kevin Collins' lifelong personal record of 2:15:32 in the Mercedes Marathon earned him $7,500, hardly enough to buy a Kia, let alone a Mercedes.
Obviously, few runners can make a living off race prizes. Even for those who do, longevity is measured in years, not decades. In the absence of a professional league that would hire runners and pay them a salary, many elite athletes supplement their income through shoe contracts. Others have resorted to the true and proven old favorite, a job.
In the golden years of racing, elite runners held real jobs, trained in their free time, and won Olympic medals. Today, many runners pursue a full-time athletic career in the vain hope of becoming a Radcliffe or a Khannouchi. A productive career on the side can alleviate the financial hardship of full-time training, potentially leading to improvements and previously unreachable goals.
Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created TrackMeets.com, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at firstname.lastname@example.org.