Paula Radcliffe’s marathon world record is unfairly scrutinized

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© Copyright – 2018 – Athletics Illustrated

There appears to be a double standard regarding the respective male and female marathon world record holders and their performances. Kenyan, Dennis Kimetto’s record appears to be widely accepted, while England’s Paula Radcliffe appears to have set off alarm bells.

In 2014, Kimetto ran the Berlin Marathon in the time of 2:02:57. In 2003, Radcliffe ran to a 2:15:25 finish during the London Marathon. She seems to be getting less respect, why is that?

In 2011, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) – the worldwide governing body of the sport of running and track and field – threatened to disqualify Radcliffe’s performance, but they acquiesced after pushback from the running community and of course from Radcliffe herself.

At the time, the IAAF was going to move to qualify records for women-only race performances, which is ridiculous considering that since the beginning of women’s marathon running, there have been hundreds of elite performances attained by women in mixed gender races.

In 2017, the IAAF also suggested that world athletics records attained before 2005 should be removed from the record books, again, threatening Radcliffe’s London performance.

Message boards are rife with insinuations about whether her performance is legitimate for two reasons: 1.) She was aided by male pacers, which is true, but acceptable and 2.) Accusations regarding cheating have cropped up because of her blood values. In a secret IAAF document containing hundreds of blood profiles, many athletes had unique scores. More explanation may be required to fully understand the document.

Kimetto’s world record was aided by pacers as have all top performances from Berlin. The Berlin marathon permits pacing for the express purpose of pushing the world record to faster times.  Fourteen of the top-26 performances in history (men) took place on the Berlin course. Six of the top-24 women’s performances all-time happened at Berlin.

Little is ever said about Kimetto’s performance. Also, fellow Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge gets a free pass with his time trial performance of 2:00:25. This run does not count in the record books but was run with pacers, as well as potential wind blockage from the lead car and large clock display – the subject of some debate.

In 2003, Radcliffe’s record-setting race appeared to be an outlier. That year, the men’s world record was held by American-Moroccan Khalid Khannouchi at 2:05:38 from London 2002.  Paul Tergat of Kenya took it down further in September 2003, five months after Radcliffe’s performance. Tergat ran 2:04:55.

At that time, there was an approximate 7.2 per cent difference in performance between Tergat’s and Radcliffe’s world records. Almost all other athletics records from 60m to the half-marathon have a male-to-female difference of 10-11 per cent. Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 race was a shocker performance.

Kimetto’s Berlin performance is approximately 9.2 per cent faster than Radcliffe’s. Kipchoge’s time trial is 11.1 per cent faster.

Kipchoge’s marathon time trial is currently the outlier. He is often referred to as the world’s best marathon runner – not Kimetto and not Radcliffe, who are on the books with official records.

According to the IAAF scoring tables, which provide a point value to measure performance differences across a range of distances, Khannouchi’s best marathon is valued at 1241 points, Tergat’s 1255, Kimetto’s 1291 and Kipchoge’s time trial 1340.

Radcliffe’s London Marathon performance scores a value of 1281, lower than both Kimetto’s and Kipchoge’s.

Why do Kipchoge and Kimetto get a free pass, when Radcliffe doesn’t?

Radcliiffe’s IAAF points score for a male performance indicates a 2:03:30. Currently, there are eight performances under 2:03:30 by men:

2:02:57 Dennis Kimetto      Berlin

2:03:02 Geoffrey Mutai      Boston*

2:03:03 Kenenisa Bekele     Berlin

2:03:05 Eliud Kipchoge      London

2:03:06 Moses Mosop         Boston*

2:03:13 Emmanuel Mutai      Berlin

2:03:13 Wilson Kipsang      Berlin

2:03:23 Wilson Kipsang      Berlin

Mary Keitany’s best – the second fastest all-time – is 2:17:01 run in London. Keitany’s run is a performance difference of 1:36 and a score of 1264, which would mean a 2:04:25 for men. This is faster than Tergat’s world record.

In January 2018, six Ethiopians ran faster than 2:04:25 during the Dubai Marathon. The fastest being Mosinet Geremew, who finished in the time of 2:04:00, the 18th fastest all-time. The point value of that performance is 1271.The temperature at the start of that race was 15C and rose to over 20C.

If Radcliffe’s marathon performance of 2:15:25 should remain under the spotlight 15 years after it was set, then so should Kimetto’s, Kipchoge’s, Keitany’s and many others.

There are 52 performances faster than Tergat’s and 101 faster than Khannouchi’s.

*The B.A.A. Boston Marathon performances do not qualify with the IAAF standards, as the course is point-to-point, therefore can be wind-aided on years there is a tail wind. Also, the net elevation drop is greater than 1-metre per kilometer. Finally, the start and finish points of a course, measured along a theoretical straight line between them, shall not be further apart than 50% of the race distance.