The Abbott World Marathon Majors are looking for a seventh race to join the circuit by 2025 and the tryouts have started. The prestige and support that comes with World Major status would immediately catapult any of the candidates into a new stratosphere of legitimacy, despite the much more established histories of the races in the current lineup.
While unsure of the exact criteria being analyzed, the longevity (and length) of the race seems like it should at least be considered. The current six, with respective inaugural years are: Boston (1897), New York (1970), Chicago (1905), London (1981), Berlin (1974), and Tokyo (2007).
That’s a lot of America for a “World” event series — time for some more continental diversity! The three candidates are South Africa’s Cape Town Marathon (1994), China’s Chengdu Marathon (2017), and Australia’s Sydney Marathon (2001). Each race has its pros and cons, although it would be expected that whichever eventually gets the call up to the big leagues will be enlarged and improved.
First off, considering the large majority of the circuit is already dominated by athletes from Africa, it seems appropriate to host a high-caliber marathon on the continent. It would create a fantastic opportunity for local (or at least local-ish) athletes who may not have the means to travel to the other side of the world with ease. The event is considered “climate neutral,” which, without looking too much into what that means, sounds better than a race that prides itself on being “picking up discarded gel packets and water cups agnostic.”. However, the race is quite small — drawing a crowd of fewer than ten thousand athletes currently. Compared to the throngs of fans lining up 1st Ave or Boylston, for athletes out on the course, that probably sounds like a library.
But the Chengdu Marathon has a lot going for it, as well. It is by far the biggest host city of the bunch and is gearing up to host 35,000 runners. The course is sorta boring, on super wide highway-like roads with out-and-backs, although it runs through much of the sites to see in the city. The food in this part of China is considered amongst the best in the world and for that reason alone, it has my attention. However, the race hasn’t hosted the same depth of international elites as the other events, which has been exacerbated by the difficulties surrounding the pandemic (i.e., cancellations). Organized by the local government, the event is all about showcasing the city as a business and tourist destination. It is operated and promoted by Wanda Sports, you know, from the Diamond League slash multi-billion dollar conglomerate.
On paper, this is probably the clear winner. But I have probably consumed too much American media propaganda around the continued postponement of the “2020” World Indoor Champs, and therefore have some reservations.
And then finally, we have the Sydney Marathon, which took place this past weekend and would be the only country from Oceania represented. There were multiple shorter races happening as well, and over 28,000 athletes participated across the festivities. That includes Kenya’s Moses Kibet, who ran an all-comers record of 2:07:03, and Ethiopia’s Tigist Girma Getachew in 2:25:10.
It was an extremely exciting race and I highly recommend watching the end of the men’s battle here. But oh my god, if that is not the most chaotic course imaginable — and it’s not just the last mile. The entire thing includes wild turns, roundabouts, and doubling back against traffic. Why are there walkers all over the place? These guys ran 2:07 having to weave in and out of people during the final sprint, all to come up to the most uneventful finish line imaginable despite having the Sydney Opera House in the background.
Do we really need to add a seventh race to the World Marathon Majors? At some point it will only dilute the fields of top competition even further. And as of right now, none of these three feel like they’re on par with the current grouping, though admittedly there’s a few years for them to aim to get there.
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