2018 Bislett Diary: When is a pace maker not a pace maker? Stuart Weir inquires

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10000m finish Oslo Dominic Kiptarus.jpgDominic Kiptarus and Stewart McSweyn, 28:05.34-28:05.37, photo by Stuart Weir

The strange case of the pacemaker

The 10000m meters race was not a Diamond event. It took place while the early field events were being held and, I should mention, at the same time as the snowball throwing competition. The race had 12 runners, plus two pacemakers. Andy Vernon (GB) was, I understand, to take the runners through 7 K and then, Dominic Kiptarus (Kenya) was to take the runners through a further kilometer, in agreed times, and then, they were on their own.

Vernon duly led for 4K but then Kiparus took over - early, according the information I received about the race structure. And Kiparus did not dropout but kept on running until the end and won. I thought I could remember this happening once before in a Diamond League race, but could not find the details. Incidentally, in addition to Andy Vernon six other runners failed to finish - were they pacemakers in disguise?

Googling "pacemakers winning" did, however, throw up lots of fascinating material:

  • Simon Biwott, pacemaker at the 2000 Berlin marathon was paid to pacemake but then finished in 2:07 to win the $50,000 first prize, alongside his pacing fee.
  • I found debates about whether it is allowed for a pacemaker to win or not - with people arguing both ways and some saying it depends on the wording of the pacemaker's contact.
  • There was the case of Eliud Kiptanui (Kenya) one of four pacemakers in the 2003 Fukuoka International Marathon, who asked the organizers if he could keep running until the end but was reportedly warned that if he did he would not be paid.

Last year I talked to Jenny Meadows, who paced several women's 800m and 1500m races last year. She said it was not an issue for her as she knew her legs were no longer up to it. But she also raised the ethical issue of whether it was fair on the runners who had based their race-plan on following a pacemaker who would step off at an agreed point. She put it this way: "I presume - but I have never asked - that it would be frowned upon as all the other athletes go into the race with their strategy, thinking that you are not a competitive athlete and they might have run differently if they thought you were a factor".

An interesting question but answering it definitively is beyond my pay grade.

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