As if competing in two world-class wheelchair marathons just six days apart isn’t challenge enough, organizers of the Virgin London Marathon and the Boston Marathon have made it official.
Beginning this spring, the Boston-London Wheelchair Challenge will offer an additional $35,000 in prize money to the elite wheelchair athletes who compete in both the April 15 Boston race and the April 21 event in London. The new challenge was announced last week.
“It’s great that they are doing this,” Josh Cassidy of Canada, who won Boston last year in a world-best time of 1:18:25, and then went on to finish ninth in London, said via e-mail. “This is the most motivated I’ve been for a marathon in a while.”
Conceived of by Michelle Weltman, the elite wheelchair coordinator in London, the challenge came together over a lunch during the 2012 London Olympics and was finalized last fall. Robert Laufer, the elite wheelchair athlete coordinator for the ING New York City Marathon, called the Boston-London challenge “a natural” and added: “I’ll certainly be watching it, and then maybe talk with people in Chicago about doing something similar, or with other World Marathon Majors races about expanding it.”
The prize purse will be awarded to the top three men and women according to points awarded to the top 10 finishers in each race. Based on the cumulative scores, the winning athletes will receive $10,000, with $5,000 awarded to the runners-up and $2,500 going to the third-place finishers. This is in addition to the prize money already awarded by each race, which in 2012 was $15,000-$6,500-$2,500 in Boston and $15,000-$5,000-$2,500 in London.
In the event of a tie, the challenge prize money will be added together and divided equally: should two athletes tie for first place, the awards for first and second would be added together and split, with the next-highest-scoring athlete awarded the third-place prize money.
This is exactly what would have happened in the men’s race had the challenge been in effect for 2012. With Masazumi Soejima of Japan placing fourth at both Boston and London and Krige Schabort of the United States placing fifth in Boston and third in London, the points awarded to each totaled 18, so each would have earned $7,500.
On the women’s side, Japan’s Wakako Tsuchida, who finished second in both races, would have easily won the challenge. Tsuchida is the only wheelchair athlete, male or female, to win both Boston and London in the same year, a feat she accomplished in 2010.
Among the men expected to line up for both races this spring are Cassidy, who in addition to winning Boston last year won London in 2010; Soejima, the two-time Boston champion who also won the ING New York City Marathon in 2011; Ernst van Dyk of South Africa, the nine-time Boston champion; and Heinz Frei, who won London in 1995, 1998, and 1999 and Boston in 1996.
Both women’s fields will include, among others, Tsuchida, a five-time Boston winner; Amanda McGrory of the United States, who won London in 2009 and 2011 and New York in 2006 and 2011; Diane Roy of Canada, who has finished second in Boston five times; and Shirley Reilly, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist who won Boston last year.
“This is definitely a bonus for me, and I’m thrilled,” Reilly (shown in photo) wrote in an e-mail. “I know it is always a challenge for me to do both of these races only a week apart, and try to recover.”
And if Boston and London ever fall just 24 hours apart, as they have occasionally in the past?
“I never even thought about the situation when they are only a day apart!” wrote Cassiday. “Now you’ve got me hesitating … ah … who am I kidding? I’ll probably do both then, as well.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg