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Rock ‘n’ Roll Events Eliminate Elite Athlete Program

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SERIES ELIMINATES NORTH AMERICAN ELITE ATHLETES PROGRAM
By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

(31-Aug)
— Competitor Group Inc. (CGI), the San Diego-based operator of the the
global Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half-Marathon series, has eliminated
its elite athletes program at North American events with immediate
effect. The series, which boasts 38 stops in North America in 2013,
began with just one event, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego in
1998.

“Competitor Group have made a strategic business decision
to shift resources in the business,” began an e-mail from CGI elite
athlete coordinator Matt Turnbull to a group of athlete
representatives. “As a consequence the Elite Athlete Program in all
North American events has been cancelled with immediate effect.”

Race
Results Weekly obtained a copy of the e-mail from two different agents,
while a third confirmed the program cancellation in a text message
calling it, “awful news.”

“The sport just seems under economic assault everywhere,” wrote the agent who did not want to be identified.

Turnbull,
the former elite athletes manager for Nova International, the British
organizer of the Great Run series, said that the cancellation included
one of CGI’s marquis events in the United States, the 36th Rock ‘n’
Roll Philadelphia Half-Marathon scheduled for Sunday, September 15.
That event, which had over 15,000 finishers last year, routinely
produced the fastest half-marathon times in North America, including
the North American all-comers records for both men and women: 58:46
(Stanley Biwott, Kenya, 2011) and 67:11 (Kim Smith, New Zealand, 2011).

“Obviously
my biggest concern is Philadelphia which takes place in just over 2
weeks time,” continued Turnbull. “I’m aware that some of you have
already purchased airfares for athletes and these will be reimbursed in
full. If your athlete(s) still want to compete for prize money they are
welcome to travel and will be looked after accordingly, though any
agreed appearance fees unfortunately will not be paid.”

CGI is
the successor company of Elite Racing, founded in San Diego by Tim
Murphy and the late Mike Long in the 1990’s. Elite Racing invented the
Rock ‘n’ Roll race concept in 1997, with the first event, the Suzuki
Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego, held June 21, 1998. The event
generated over 18,000 entries in its first year, and was won by Kenya’s
Philip Tarus (2:10:42) and Russia’s Nadhezda Ilyina (2:34:17). The
winners received $55,000 in cash and merchandise from Suzuki.

From
there, the Rock ‘n’ Roll brand grew steadily, driven by Murphy’s proven
formula of generating positive economic impact for cities (an
independent analysis by a University of San Diego economics professor,
Dr. Kokili Doshi, determined that the first event generated a whopping
$78.7 million in economic activity). The series added another marathon
in 2000, under the “Country Music” name, in Nashville, Tenn., and a
half-marathon in Virginia Beach under the Rock ‘n’ Roll brand in 2001.
Another marathon and half-marathon was added in Phoenix in 2004; a
half-marathon in San Jose, Calif., in 2006; and a marathon and
half-marathon in San Antonio, Texas, in 2008. The events always
featured large elite fields and some of the world’s best athletes
–Deena Kastor, Haile Gebrselassie, Paul Tergat, Duncan Kibet, Fatuma
Roba, Edna Kiplagat, and Meb Keflezighi– all ran in Rock ‘n’ Roll
events.

Long, a former stockbroker whose personal charisma as
an athlete recruiter helped the Rock ‘n’ Roll brand spread, died in
July, 2007. Competitor Group, Inc. was formed at the end of that year
by a New York investment fund, Falconhead Capital, which joined Elite’s
race management business with the owners of “Triathlete” and
“Competitor” magazines, eventually adding Inside Communications,
publishers of “VeloNews” and “Inside Triathlon.” With Falconhead’s
money, the series exploded to over 40 stops worldwide. Falcolnhead sold
the company to another investment fund, Calera Capital, in November,
2012.

While elite fields had always been a component the Rock
‘n’ Roll formula, CGI had tinkered with with that formula several
times. Most recently, prize money had been reduced at most of the
events to only a $1000 award for the winners, but races like
Philadelphia continued to have stronger prize money and also paid
appearance fees (the male and female Philadelphia winners earned $3500,
$9500, and $3500, respectively, the last three years). CGI also made
annual deals with well-known athletes like Ryan Hall, Deena Kastor, and
Kara Goucher, who appeared at various Rock ‘n’ Roll events over the
last several years. The status of those arrangements is unknown (Hall
is scheduled to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half-Marathon on October
6, a CGI representative said just last week).

Turnbull, a
tireless advocate for professional road running who sometimes lived for
months out of a suitcase, was greatly saddened by the new direction his
employer was taking.

“Both Tracy Sundlun (the CGI executive
vice-president) and I are truly heartbroken that this has occurred and
I’d like to thank you all for your support over the years at our
races,” Turnbull wrote.

Turnbull also said that the elite
athletes program at CGI’s European events would remain unchanged, led
by Portugal’s Carlos Moia and Spain’s Miguel Mostaza.

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