Effects of professionalization… in marathon racing

We’ve had a lively debate about whether project management is a profession, though only one or two people questioned whether professionalization would be good for project management itself.  The competition-limiting character and intent of many professional frameworks — which limit entry by imposing license, education, or membership requirements — often leads to poor quality service or products.

One can see these effects even in competitive running.  If you hadn’t seen this story about Arien O’Connell’s performance at the 2008 Nike Women’s Marathon, you would believe that:

It doesn’t get much simpler than a footrace.  All it takes is a starting line, a finish line and a clock. You fire the gun and the first person to the end of the course is the winner.

But the woman with fastest time — by 11 minutes!!! — didn’t win because she wasn’t an “elite” runner.  And, of course, the professional standard setting body — USA Track and Field — insisted that “the rules are the rules are the rules.” 

Who knows why the “elites” ran so slowly that day?  Perhaps they all had a bad day… or perhaps they thought they didn’t have to run so hard because they were, well, a professional elite.  The latter seemed to be the conclusion drawn by Jon Hendershott of Track and Field News.

“What’s she supposed to do, lay back because she’s not an elite runner?” he asked. “If the elites are going to lay back, that’s their fault.”

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