SBJ/April 16 - 22, 2007/This Weeks News

New for marathons: Merit jerseys

To make the world’s leading marathoners more identifiable during races, shoe and apparel companies and the World Marathon Majors have designed a series of colored jerseys that correspond with each runners’ accomplishments.

Colors will denote accomplishments.

The top runners will begin wearing the uniforms in the 111th Boston Marathon today.

The world record holder will wear yellow; the Olympic gold medalist, gold; the world champion, silver; and the yet-to-be-named World Marathon Major champion, red. Winners of each of the five major races — London, Boston, Chicago, New York and Berlin — will wear the colors of the respective race they won, so New York’s winner will wear orange and blue.

The jersey colors are designed to help spectators and TV viewers easily identify the top runners. Race organizers hope the colors also help members of the media promote the top racers’ achievements.

“It’s not rocket science,” said David Bedford, director of Flora London Marathon, “but everyone pulling together recognizes this will help our sport and the way it’s perceived.”

The jerseys were inspired by the final miles of the 2005 ING New York City Marathon. Paul Tergat, Hendrik Ramaala and Meb Keflezighi — all Nike athletes — were running shoulder to shoulder wearing the same uniform.

Looking at a JumboTron near the finish line, New York Road Runners President and CEO Mary Wittenberg couldn’t tell them apart. She knew that if she couldn’t identify the runners, the average spectator couldn’t either.

Similar uniforms made the finish of the 2005
NYC race difficult for marathon spectators.

Following the marathon, she and representatives from the other major marathons met with shoe and apparel companies including Nike, Adidas, Asics and New Balance. During their discussion, they developed the idea for colored jerseys.

“There’s still some brand awareness that has to happen to bring some good benefits to the sponsors and the athletes from this,” said Gary Slayton, Asics’ vice president of marketing and communications. “That will develop over time, and media — especially TV — will have a big play on that.”

No sponsorships can be sold for the new uniforms because the rules of the sport’s governing body (IAAF) forbids it.

Wittenberg called uniforms part of a “television-directed initiative.” The five marathons are currently shown to 240 million-plus television viewers worldwide, and they collectively draw more than 5 million spectators.

The World Marathon Majors was created last year. The first winner of the series will be named at the 2007 New York marathon.

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