This weekend’s London Marathon has been overshadowed by events in Boston. It will now be something of a memorial service for those who were killed or injured last Monday – a 30-second silence will be observed before the start, and all runners have been given a black ribbon to wear during the race. Some will also see it as an act of solidarity, defiance and perhaps closure to their upset.
Boston has also knocked from the headlines what had looked to be a high-profile and somewhat controversial aspect of this year’s London Marathon – Mo Farah’s decision to run only half of the race.
Farah’s deal with the organisers and sponsors is that he will run half of the 2013 London Marathon ahead of competing fully in the 2014 event – all for an undisclosed combined fee that is believed to be around £450,000.
Elite athletes regularly receive appearance fees for competing in city marathons. However, Farah’s deal seems to have hit a nerve with some people. Because Farah will simply stop at halfway in this year’s race, there’s a feeling that he’s being unsporting or not in keeping with the spirit of the event.
One newspaper, the Daily Mail, has led the criticism of Farah’s plans. As well as compiling the sceptical opinions of British athletics stars like Paula Radcliffe, Steve Cram and David Bedford, it posted a scathing online article that implied his wife (“VERY ambitious”) was responsible for pushing him towards money-making deals that would “tarnish” his reputation. (This would probably come as news to Farah’s agent, Ricky Simms, the Irishman who also looks after Usain Bolt.)
Farah has been forced to defend himself, emphasising that his 2013 London half-marathon is part of a long-term training plan.
So, is Farah making a public relations mistake by running only half of the race?
The deal is perfectly clear and there’s no duplicity involved – it’s not as if Farah has been hatching a secret plan to stop at halfway, take the money and run. Spectators aren’t being short-changed, because they are watching the event for free. And Farah has committed to a full, competitive London Marathon attempt in 2014.
By contrast, consider the hypothetical scenario where a star athlete appears at a track meet, draws a full house of paying punters expecting a world record attempt, but then only jogs a few uncompetitive laps. This doesn’t describe Farah’s London Marathon deal.
That said, a high-profile half-marathon like the Great North Run could have served Farah the same purpose. Judging by the online reaction of the running community to events in Boston, a marathon is sacrosant to many. And it will be interesting to see and hear the crowd’s reaction when Farah stops.
Still, anyone upset by Farah’s London half-marathon plan would do well to see the deal for what it is: a public appearance by one of the sport’s best-loved figures. Let’s hope Mo is still feeling the love at 13.1 miles on Sunday and his popularity doesn’t hit The Wall.