Let me state this unequivocally. There is no “purity” of ultrarunning. Why am I even stating this?
As the Winter Olympics end, and with the Summer Olympics over two years away, some people who love this international gathering of athletes and the spectacle (good and bad) with which it brings, have made clamoring about the possibility of having Fall and Spring Olympics, as well. Without going into anything other than a surface discussion of this as a possibility (and I have to admit, I kind of love the idea of a third Olympics), the biggest question coming out of the debate was which sports would go into these gatherings. Ultramarathon came from more than a few people’s mouths, as one sport which deserved a slot in the Games.
When the idea was presented that an ultramarathon would be an excellent choice for an event at these new Olympics, some thought the sport is far too pure and sacred to be reduced to the brash commercialism of the Olympic machine. To add it to a slate of events to be mulled over by announcers who could not tell the difference between a 100K race and a 401K retirement plan would steal the sport of its inherent beauty and pristine nature. Poppycock.
No sport is pure. Period. No sport is inherently more or less devoid of crassness or greed or any of the other negative stereotypes given to events that have a purse involved or a television contract. Only people can be given these attributes and what they then do in their sport of choosing is what defines them, not the sport. A holier-than-though attitude exists in some sports about how their sport is above the money and material accolades and prizes. More often than not, this is because there is no real money or accolades to be had.
Regardless, I cannot imagine a single runner who would not beam with pride to represent their country in an ultramarathon. Is Scott Jurek any less deserving of a medal than Apolo Ohno and his ridiculous goatee? Does Kami Semick have no more right to be on the podium with a gold medal than beach volleyball players? I obviously do not know their mindsets specifically, but I am sure there are hundreds of worthy ultranrunners who would in no way turn down an opportunity to participate in their beloved sport and be able to do so on the world stage. What sort of course would the runners take on, would the viewing public watch the event if it was televised, and a plethora of other questions remain but none should be whether its inclusion in the Olympics affects the “purity” of the sport.