Jessica Chichester came 5th in the Boston Marathon, but didn't receive a penny of the $15,000 the fifth-placed male runner got
Jessica Chichester, who underwent 18 weeks of rigorous training for the Boston Marathon, had to run the race in one of the lowest temperatures the city had ever seen in April. Chichester is a 31-year-old nurse practitioner. She came fifth but received no prize money simply because she's a woman.
"It was just like a fierce battle the whole time, plowing through 30-mile-per-hour headwinds and rain and dodging puddles," Chichester, who leads the New York running team the Dashing Whippets, told BuzzFeed News.
The Boston Marathon dictates that the prize money for both men and women fifth place winners is $15,000, but in this case, Chichester walked away with nothing.
Why did this happen? Simply because there are different "rules" that apply men and women competing in the race.
Buzzfeed reported that to be eligible for the prize money, a woman must first qualify for the elite women's start (EWS). The EWS is a professional-level starting group that demands the best times secured in marathons.
T.K. Skenderian, communications director for the Boston Athletic Association, said that the qualifying time for the EWS changes every year. This year, it was 2:47:50, and only 46 women made the cut. The Boston Athletic association organizes this marathon every year.
This "elite" group starts 28 minutes before the other runners. However, winners are decided based on overall times and not on who crosses the finish line first.
On the contrary, there is no similar division that applies to male runners. According to the rules, if a man places up to 15th in the said marathon, he is going to take home the moolah no matter what.
Buzzfeed reporter Julia Reinstein explained that while 16,587 men were potentially eligible for a chicken dinner, only 46 women stand the chance of winning the cash prize.
Skendarian was asked why there are such double standards when it comes to women, to which he responded by saying: "These are viewed as two separate competitions and this women’s-only start has become the preference of elite women athletes in distance running for more than a decade."
"Other major marathons, like London, New York, Berlin have a similar procedure," Skenderian said. "The Olympics and championship-style races are not mixed-gender."
He even said that the EWS is designed "to highlight head-to-head racing and competition."
"As opposed to starting men and women at the same time, and ultimately having the female competitors lose each other among packs of men (and potentially receive pacing assistance), the EWS allows athletes to compete without obstruction," said Skenderian.
In an attempt to justify the rules set by the association, Skendarian went on to say that the EWS "gives the fastest women the chance to race each other openly" and "allows the women’s race to get more TV coverage."
"Eligible athletes [for the EWS] can make an informed choice to seek prize money or not to seek prize money," said Skenderian, saying that their website has provisions to determine the same.
But because Chichester hadn't made the qualifying time, she was not allowed to join the EWS.
On the day of the race, however, she completed the race in a whopping 2:45:23, which is only 23 seconds more than the qualifying time for the Olympic marathon.
Chichester said that her brother had run a similar race in 2012 where he placed 11th in the marathon and was awarded the prize money. Bear in mind, he was not running with the men's elite division.
"It makes me sad that there’s not a way for people that are in the mass start, that have a breakthrough race and come up from having not as good of a time, can be eligible for the prize money they deserve," said Chichester.
Usually, women who don't qualify for the EWS don't make to the top 15. However, the 2018 Boston Marathon was anything but usual.
Due to the testing weather conditions, winning times were the slowest since the 1970s. Plus, 50% more participants dropped out of the race than last year, reported the New York Times.
That being said, Chichester was not the only woman to bear the brunt of gender-based discrimination. 31-year-old Veronica Jackson had also missed the required time for the EWS.
"I can run in the elements pretty well, so I knew when the weather was looking bad, I actually set a goal for myself to be top 20 or top 25," Jackson told BuzzFeed News.
She completed the race finishing 13th, which should have won her a $1,800 cash prize. However, that didn't happen.
"The men who are in my position are often called sub-elite, and they’re a group of people who are not quite in the professional [elite] group," said Jackson, calling the situation "frustrating."
"In races, men’s sub-elites get to start with the elite men. Women’s sub-elites don’t," she said. "Men’s sub-elites are always eligible for prize money. Women's sub-elites are not. And that’s really unfair."
Also, the Boston Marathon isn't the sole sexist race in the United States. In the New York City Marathon website, it clearly states that "only women competing in the all-women’s professional race are eligible for Open Division prize money."
"If they were to say you have to be in the elite field to get the money, then they need to allow more runners in this elite field," said Jackson. "You know, I wanted to be in it."
Jackson said that the $1,800 would have meant a lot to her, although she considers the Boston Marathon as her "favorite race in the world."
"That would cover a lot of race expenses," she said. "And I’m getting married this summer, so some of it would’ve gone there."
24-year-old Becky Snelson placed just behind Jackson this year. Her prize should have been $1,700 but she did not receive a dime as she too didn't qualify for the EWS.
"When I crossed the finish line, I’d been tracking my time on my watch and I knew that I’d gotten the time that I wanted, so I was elated," Snelson said. "And I was immediately very concerned about when I was getting that heat blanket because I started getting very cold once I was done."
Snelson couldn't believe her ears when her mom told her she had placed 14th.
"I was sort of in disbelief, and I'm still sort of in disbelief about it," Snelson said. "I came in 14th at a World Marathon Majors. I didn’t even know that was on my bucket list, but now I did it."
Sadly, she said that if she were given the $1,700, she would have used it to help pay off her student loans.
"It’s definitely a unique situation, because the men that start not in the elite men’s start, they’re still allowed to qualify [for prize money]," she said.
However, Snelson says that the personal victory is more important to her than the cash, but the race, she said, "kind of stinks a bit."
"I earned this money because I was the 14th fastest that day," Snelson said. "I didn’t expect to walk out of Boston making money either, but I feel like I kind of deserve it."