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Race Goes To The Swift But Prize Goes To The White

Thu., Nov. 21, 1996, midnight

Pity American runners. They say Africans keep them glued to “the bottom of the bag.”

This summer, in a 10-mile race in Flint, Mich., Kenyans won the top 12 men’s and top three women’s spots. In the Falmouth Road Race, African men won the first 13 spots. In the Philadelphia half-marathon, Kenyan men won the first five places and Kenyan women the first two.

Mexican, Italian and German runners have won recent New York or Boston marathons. But Africans petrify many race organizers. American marathoner Kim Jones suggests that of the runners who have their way paid to races, one-third should be Kenyan, one-third American and one-third others.

Joe Henderson, West Coast editor of Runner’s World magazine, wrote, “The role of Kenyans on the U.S. race scene has grown too dominant … Limit the number of Kenyans. Give Americans, Canadians and others better chances to earn prize money … it would give the event what it needs in terms of greater variety by limiting the depth from any one country.”

Humph. White folks voted to kill state affirmative action in California. They have ended quotas for African-Americans and Latinos at Boston Latin School. They have ended set-asides in many state and city construction contracts.

These white people, like the Texaco officials who kept “black jelly beans” glued to the “bottom of the bag,” say variety means black inferiority.

But when white folks are inferior runners, what do many of them want?

Diversity. Set-asides. Quotas. Affirmative action.

Under white affirmative action (there are few African-American distance runners), non-American marathon winners at the New York Marathon get $30,000. American winners get $100,000. At Falmouth, Kenyan Joseph Kamau won $2,000 for third place. American Joe LeMay won $4,000 for 14th place. In a New Haven run, Kamau won $2,500 for first place while LeMay won $4,650 for second.

Next year, an American who breaks either the American men’s or women’s marathon records on American soil can collect $1 million from New Balance. Interestingly, he or she could collect even if he or she does not win the race. Insultingly, a foreigner could set a world record, push an American to merely the American record, and collect chump change.

“It bothers us” that foreigners win, said New Balance CEO Jim Davis. The Pittsburgh Marathon has an American-only prize structure. “Some people here don’t relate (to foreigners) coming in, winning a check and going home,” said director Larry Grollman.

Humpf. Norway’s Grete Waitz dominated New York and inspired all women. No one moaned about New York victories by Italian men from 1984-86. The Boston Marathon, bless its soul, does not give American bonuses and popularizes Kenyan winners like Cosmas Ndeti. But increasingly, race organizers think white fans cannot relate to Africans. They want a long-distance Larry Bird.

They are very sore losers. The $18 billion we spend a year to support pro and college sports, health centers and sports clubs exceeds the combined gross national products of Kenya and Ethiopia.

Bob Wood, an agent and a chairman of U.S.A. Track and Field, said Americans need special “opportunity to develop” against “the never-ending supply of Kenyans.” But the 1996 Olympic marathon winner, Josia Thugwane of South Africa, lived until recently in a shack in a town with no general electricity.

Americans spend $10 billion a year on sports attire, but 22 percent of American kids are obese and Massachusetts this week ended school requirements for physical education. African children run miles to school. Kenyan girls race barefooted. Boston Marathon legend Bill Rodgers said African runners are a “determined people” with “burning individual pride.”

White attackers of affirmative action do not want merit, as claims California Gov. Pete Wilson or Michael McLaughlin, who sued Boston Latin. They want their economic and old-boy head starts while telling people of color to compete for test scores out of bad schools and gain job experience in hostile workplaces.

White affirmative action in running devalues African determination, rewards inferiority and makes a mockery out of merit. Don Kardong, president of the Road Runners Club of America, said it sends the message “that we cannot compete against the best, that we need special preference.”

New York Marathon director Allan Steinfeld says he hopes his $100,000 will inspire Americans “to shoot for the grand prize.”

Humpf. If a company gave grand bonuses to inspire employees just because they were black, white folks would run 26.2 miles to the Supreme Court. It is one more proof that America is not against affirmative action. It is only against it for black people.


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Derrick Z. Jackson The Boston Globe

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