Op-Ed: No, I Don’t Think The B.A.A Is Sexist

In case you haven’t been reading the latest running news following this year’s Boston Marathon, Desi Linden won, the weather was horrific and a handful of non-elite women ran top-15 net finish times. The weather created a very crazy and wild race day for everyone, producing some of the slowest finish times in Patriots’ Day history. To me, this means that anyone who started that race in Hopkinton deserves a bravery medal—and the thousands who made it to that finish line deserve 10 more medals. There was a lot of chatter on social media about placing “an asterisk” next to the performances, including Linden’s 2:39:54 finishing time.

An asterisk for what? I kept wondering. She showed up on the day, got the job done, made history, worked hard, beat everyone else and so-called “earned it” perhaps more than the champions before her. Plus, she paused at the bathrooms to watch for Shalane Flanagan before catching back up and winning. An asterisk? Give me a break.

However, there is an asterisk in question—next to those women who ran quick times through the pouring rain and wind. According to the Boston Athletic Association’s (B.A.A.) website, the top-15 for both men and women receive prize money from sponsor John Hancock, a tradition since 1986. The website also states that prize money for women will only be awarded to those runners who start in the Elite Wave Start (EWS); women who take off in any other wave behind that waive their right to the prize. (Note: At the Boston Marathon, the elite women start about 30 minutes before the elite men, who begin at the front of wave 1. The B.A.A implemented this separate start in 2004.)

Seems fine, right? Not when 2018 was the most interesting marathon in history, where the second- and third-place overall female finishers were essentially unknown to the media, tons of elites dropped due to the chilly temperatures and the female champion finished in a jacket. As a result, five of those top-15 women with top times came from outside the EWS…so they were not eligible for prize money.

After an article came out on Buzzfeed regarding the lopsided rules, Twitter was ablaze with opinions. Is this is an intentional “sexist” thing from the B.A.A like some suggested? Absolutely not. This rule has been in place for a long time, and the women start separately to allow them to be highlighted equally and race “without obstruction.” The B.A.A was literally following a rule that’d been in place regarding prize money (they’ve since awarded these five the appropriate amount based on their finish time).

But did this year’s race bring to light some discrepancies, when historically they made sense and were not an issue? Yes. The rules were clear and fair until something crazy happened, something that no one ever expected, so now it’s time to re-evaluate. Some of the women who ran that top-15 time did not run a qualifying time to start in the EWS in the first place. They were never technically given the opportunity to make that choice to become eligible for prize money, let alone have the opportunity to cross the line in the top 15.

If a male runner starts behind the elites in wave 1, but did not register as an elite runner, can he still win that same prize money? Yes (well, based on gun time). So why can’t a woman in wave 1 be afforded the same opportunity?

On any other “normal” day of racing, this would be a nonissue; top-15 net times would regularly come from elite athletes on both sides. But extenuating circumstances like this year’s race, encouraged not only wildly unpredictable and odd outcomes, but also officials to look at the rules in a different way—and maybe that’s a very timely thing to happen. Again, I do not agree that this was intentionally “sexist” or a fault of the B.A.A. whatsoever; it was a rule that, until now, never caused a stir and always made sense.

The B.A.A definitely made the right choice in awarding those five women what they earned for their races. Because again, anyone who even made it to Boylston this year, let alone beating professional runners, deserves a damn parade.