Friday, January 06, 2012

Fair Play: Should we pander to elite runners?

AN article in the 2010 edition of the Best American Sports Writing caught my attention. Though it was about one man’s attempt to reconstruct an old links course, it reminded me, of all things, about some of the local elite runners’ lament regarding the entry of the foreign runners.

The author said that in the era when golf was its infancy, courses were designed to “evoke play over existing terrain in thought-provoking ways,” and grounds were not “recontoured to conform to golfers’ expectations.”

How is that related to the local running circuit? It’s simple. The layout of the local running community is no longer the same. The Africans changed that .

Should we change it again to what it was, as what some runners want? Should we
“recontour” it meet their expectations?

The expectations being that local runners should have a chance to vie for the top prize.

Should we bar the Africans from local races?

I think not.

It’s counter-productive, and it doesn’t make sense.

I first got wind of this resentment against foreign runners when Simon Losiaboi came to town and swept all the top prizes in a two-month span. I think Mary Grace delos Santos, herself, was also a subject of envy when she began winning local races.

Mary Grace, ironically, is proof that locals can beat foreigners but when she and Simon started winning, some complained.

“Dili man na mga taga-Cebu.”

I find that funny because the local elite runners who are resenting the entry of the foreigners were themselves, the subject of resentment from weekend runners, hence a change in the way races are conducted.

I remember sitting in one meeting and one of the organizers said, “Sila _____ na pud maka-daug ani.”

Their solution to that became the norm when groups held their own runs--exclusive media, doctors, priests, students, alumni, nurses or what-have-you divisions.

Boo-hoo local elites.

But do these changes mean it is OK for local elite runners to wish that foreigners be barred?

I think not.

There’s a big difference with say, offering a special 5K division for students to give the 1,000 a chance for a podium finish, than barring foreign elite runners so 10 local guys can fight for first place.

Besides, if our local elite runners can’t beat the Kenyans, should we reward them?

And if we begin to think that way, what would we feel if other countries think, “Hey, why are they giving all these nursing jobs to Filipinos?”

Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t understand why some runners are complaining.
Running for them is a livelihood, it’s what feeds the family.

But to grow further, the local running circuit must welcome new faces. It can’t
stagnate and be stuck with where it is.

Besides, facing world-class competition—or even Asian-top-class-competition—this early is good for a runner’s development, right?

And I’m talking about those teens and promising young stars, who, at their age are facing runners whom the best of the country only face when they got to the Southeast Asian, or even, Asian Games.

Should we deny them the opportunity?

Because some can’t win?

One organizer, who I won’t name, when asked if their group was going to offer a reward for the top Filipino finisher in his race, cringed and asked, “Isn’t that racist?” (I think there a running joke [pun intended] then that offering the “Top Filipino” award is like awarding the best loser.)

Racist may be too strong a word, but organizers who offer that reward should add an asterisk that says “wasn’t the top runner.”

According to the article, to reconstruct the course, the golf designer simply dug up history and said the rebuilt layout may seem strange to the modern golfer because “we’ve got so used to pandering to the golfer.”

Let’s not pander. Let’s not recontour.

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