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Kopac's Corner

A Million To One

by Bob Kopac

At the beginning of 1997 New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. announced an amazing offer: if an American runner, male or female, broke the American national marathon record in 1997, it would award that runner ONE MILLION DOLLARS! Quoting Jim Davis, the president and chief executive of New Balance:

"We're an American company, and it bothers us that in the past few years, you go to Boston or New York and it's always someone from another country who wins. We know the potential to win is here. We want to raise awareness. We feel this is as good a way as any to do it."

Unbelievably, in this land of opportunity and opportunists, no one claimed the million bucks in 1997! Undaunted, New Balance decided to extend the offer, but still no one has broken the record! Let us examine the New Balance entry rules to understand why.

  1. At first the offer was good for 1997 only. Therefore, if you had never run any race longer than a 5K before 1997, you probably did not have enough time to train. However, it is amazing what some people and/or steroids can accomplish for one million dollars.
  2. The 1997 contest rules stated that if both the male and female marathon records were broken, both runners would have to split the money equally. This was an ill-conceived rule and fraught with competitive peril. What immediately comes to my mind is Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. Actually, Cindy Crawford immediately comes to my mind, but Tonya and Nancy are more relevant to this discussion. Another thing: which marathon record would RuPaul have to break?

    These thoughts must have occurred to New Balance company officials also, which is frightening. New Balance decided to change the rule and instead award one million dollars each to the male and female record breakers. However, this rule still is confusing. What happens if a hermaphrodite runner breaks the record?

  3. You must break the national marathon record for your gender. Joan (of arch) Benoit Samuelson established the women's national marathon record of 2:21:21--almost a palindrome--at the 1984 Chicago Marathon. Bob (Dr. Pain) Kampainen set the men's national marathon record of 2:08:47 in 1994 at the Boston Marathon. To beat the record, you have to run incredibly well and have a great nickname.
  4. You must be an American citizen. This xenophobic rule actually is good, because it excludes all those billionaire greed-heads who renounced United States citizenship for tax advantages. I bet they are sorry now. However, isolationists might be upset by this rule because of a possible flood of U.S. citizenship applications by elite foreign runners.
  5. Similar to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, if multiple runners shatter the record during the year, the runner who holds the record at the end of the year receives the money. This is another bad rule. Attendance at races such as the Boston Marathon might actually decline because nobody would want to break the record early in the year. Imagine breaking the record in April, only to wait eight more months as elite runners continually attempt to better your mark. Even if your record survives, you would have to spend most of the money on psychiatric sessions because of the eight months of debilitating stress! After all, one million dollars could slip through your toes on December 31 if a runner breaks the record on that day. Instead of ringing in the new year, you might be wringing the neck of your competitor!

    To avoid the stress, it would be better to attempt to break the record as late in the year as possible. Enterprising running clubs could schedule a race for December 31. If a Texas running club and a Minnesota running club both scheduled a marathon on that day, the Texas runners might have the advantage because of no snow. However, the Minnesota club might persuade elite runners to run in its race by proving that one can slide faster than one can run. What about east coast versus west coast time zones? The best marathon would be December 31 on Attu Island in the Aleutians.

  6. The record has to be broken at one of 61 marathons approved by New Balance. This appears to be yet another bad rule. Imagine the disrespect to your marathon if it was not one of the chosen 61. What criteria did New Balance use to select the elite 61? Did they base it on how famous the marathon is, thus disrespecting small-town marathons? What would happen if someone breaks the marathon record at a non-qualifying marathon? That runner would have had no recourse but to do the truly American thing: hire a lawyer as good as Racehorse Haynes. If the number of participants in the small race actually declines from the previous years, the race organizers could sue New Balance, claiming that New Balance's policy hurt attendance at small marathons.

    This rule also prevents me from creating my own marathon on the slopes of Mount McKinley. I would not have advertised this race, and thus I would have been the only competitor; otherwise, all the extreme Generation-X runners would have wanted to enter. I would have started at the summit and fallen down the mountain. I would have given due credit to gravity--but just credit, not any money. I would also have given credit, and money, to the doctors who would have repaired my broken bones caused by my falling down the mountain--small price to pay for one million dollars! Some of you may say Mount McKinley is not 26.2 miles high. I know that. However, I figure that if I had fallen from 20,320 feet (the height of Mount McKinley for you potential Jeopardy contestants), I would have kept rolling after I came to the bottom. Who knows? I might even have broken the ultra-marathon record!

Those are the rules. However, if I owned New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc., I would create different rules:

  1. I would copyright the idea. So far New Balance has been in no danger of having to pay out the million dollars. Marathon officials throughout the land have noticed this fact. Accordingly, some of these officials have also decided to offer bonuses to runners for breaking the national record at a particular marathon. Hey, if you cannot come up with an original idea of your own, then you should have to pay for it! I would also extend the copyright to include similar awards. For example, I would obtain royalties from the Forth Worth Cowtown Marathon because it offers bonuses to anyone who breaks the course record. By collecting royalties from these races, I would accumulate one million dollars and thus not have to beg for the money from the company's board of directors.
  2. Only runners wearing my brand of shoes would be eligible for the one million dollars. Why should I pay my company's prize money to someone wearing shoes of a competitive shoe company? This rule would guarantee a surge in the profits of my company, benefiting the stock holders and dampening any criticism at the stockholders' meeting.
  3. If a runner does break the record wearing a competitive company's shoes and wants the money, he or she could hire a photographer to alter all photographs to the correct shoes. I would recommend using the Bruno Magli shoes photographer.
  4. Only attractive runners can win the money. I would want to get as much publicity out of this event as possible. I would rather have a runner who looks like Julia Roberts than one who looks like Lyle Lovett in my advertisements! If Julia herself wins the prize, there would be no criticism at the stockholders' meeting.
  5. For one million dollars, the winner not only has to wear my brand of shoes but must also wear a tattoo of the logo of my company. I get this inspiration from all the Harley Davidson tattoos I see. Talk about brand-name loyalty, tattooing a company's logo on your body! By the way, it is a good thing that the contest is not sponsored by IBM; otherwise the runner would have to wear a tattoo of crossed wing-tip shoes.
  6. The runner has to display the tattoo prominently and not wear the tattoo on a part of the body that is usually covered. This restriction becomes meaningless if Cher or Cindy Crawford wins, and there would be a standing ovation at the stockholders' meeting.

Those are all my rules. If New Balance decides to implement my rules, I expect to see many new runners on the roads, for nothing interests Americans more than money. Unless it is Cindy Crawford.