Nick Symmonds Is Annoying, But Has a Point: Let’s Bet on Running

racehorse3_480Many of you may know all about 800 meter specialist, Olympian, and world championship silver medalist Nick Symmonds. Or maybe you know him as the 5:19 beer-miler, the co-founder of a caffeinated gum company, the dater of Paris Hilton, the eBayer of his skin, the suer of the USOC and USATF, or, as some might say, the Brad Pitt of track and field, professional publicity-stuntman, or a whiner.

Nick has long advocated for increased profit sharing between the governing bodies of the sport of track and field, like the USATF, and the athletes. I appreciate his efforts to make things better for the national and even world-class runners who can’t make a living running. However, the way he goes about bringing attention to himself his cause is a bit much, in my opinion. Take for instance, his recent eBay auction in which he made $21,800 for nine square inches of advertising space on his shoulder. Maybe I’m jealous that no one would pay me 21 cents to advertise on my skin … or that I don’t have nine square inches of shoulder to offer. #distancerunnerprobs.

Anyway, I read an interview in which Nick said the way to make running a sport whose popularity rivals that of the “stick and ball” sports is to allow gambling on running. Betting on human running races? At first my eyes rolled and I thought, here we go again, Nick. Betting on runners like we would on horses sounded ridiculous and like another way for Nick to grab attention. But then the Kentucky Derby happened.

I was bored and noticed it was Derby weekend, so naturally and impulsively I downloaded a horse betting app. A questionable decision, I know. I put 15 bucks down on the horse with the coolest name and decent odds and then I went back and put five dollars more down right before the race started because it gave me such a rush. Also a questionable decision. But guess what happened? The horse with the funny name was Nyquist. I doubled my money!

I’d never really been interested in horse racing before and I don’t really understand how it works, but you better believe that with money on the line, I live-streamed that race and got into it real quick. This got me thinking … Nick was right! If we allowed betting on people races imagine all the bros suddenly caring about who wins the Boston Marathon or the steeple at Payton Jordan! Some sports fans who would otherwise never be interested in track or running would have a reason to pay attention, which would undoubtedly help the sport grow in popularity. With cash riding on the outcome of races, maybe the Olympics wouldn’t be the only time the average person cares about people running in circles!

Another benefit of betting, and a consequence of more people being interested in the sport, would be increased and better media coverage. As a track nerd, I absolutely love when I get to watch races and get extremely frustrated with how few races are shown on TV or streamed online. Then, when they are online, you often have to pay to watch and usually the commentators and video quality are mediocre at best. An increase in demand to watch races would increase the amount of live TV coverage and would increase online streaming competition, forcing those subscription prices down.

Another potential upside of allowing betting on track and field and road racing is a little less obvious. When I was trying to decide which horse to bet on during the Kentucky derby, I really wished I had a way of knowing how the horses’ workouts had been going and how healthy they were. For human athletes, with apps like Strava or Sweat Mobile and social media it’s easy to follow many athletes’ training. Maybe the added interest would even discourage athletes from hiding from the public during training and being as secretive about their workouts as they usually are. Or maybe it would have the opposite effect and make athletes even more secretive or selective in what they share.

Finally, and really the whole point of Nick’s stance on betting and running, allowing people to gamble on running would bring more money to the sport and allow track and field athletes a chance to make more money. Imagine how much a big economic boost to the sport could do to help the 50% of athletes who are below the poverty line in terms of income. I know from experience that in order for many of the young elite athletes to rise to the level of world-class, they need to be able to focus on their sport. With so many of our best track and field athletes trying to hold down day-jobs just to pay to get to races, how can we ever expect U.S. athletes to compete on the world stage? I believe that Nick Symmonds is right, allowing gambling in track could solve that problem.

As for me, I have 40 bucks in my betting account and am eagerly waiting to put it all down on my main horse, Nyquist in a few weeks at the Preakness. And don’t worry! I don’t have a gambling problem or anything! I can stop whenever I want! I just don’t want to yet.

How do you feel about gambling on track and field events like track and road races? Would it help grow the sport? Would you throw some money down?

I'm an aspiring elite runner from the DC/Northern VA area. I love road racing and am currently training for a half marathon in April. I write about attempting to balance a career with running and enjoying the process of training and improving!

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  1. I have been saying this to friends for a long time. I love the idea and hope it happens at some point

  2. Of all the D-list celebrities … I mean, that’s the best he could do? In all seriousness, though. I am not up on the latest research on the affects of gambling, but if the goal is to bring more money and interest into the sport then it sounds good. But, here’s a question, is the number of dollars and eyeballs all we care about? Or do we care about what kind of eyeballs and where the dollars come from? Or is it ok to have an initial influx of “evil” eyeballs and dollars that will eventually turn into a large diverse audience and even rabid fans who would bring many more dollars?

    1. That’s a good question….I guess I could see how that could be a negative thing for the sport if suddenly we have a bunch of people who are investing in it for the wrong reasons. Then what if those people somehow become part of the already-screwed-up governing body and start pushing their own interests rather than what’s best for the sport?

      1. Yeah, and I was thinking about your point about athlete transparency about their training. There would be all kinds of shady shit going down – like pumping runners up to sound amazing or vice versa. And then the incentives for cheating would go WAY up, potentially. Right now the incentives are high for the athletes, but when the incentives are high for the financial stake-holders then way more $$ and resources could potentially go into finding better ways to dope without getting caught or covering up doping, etc. Just stuff to think about!

    1. i’ll have to get out my copy of Lore of
      Running, but I seem to remember reading this too – that apparently the origin of foot races in Britain was 18th c. aristocrats betting on their footmen!

  3. Hi everybody! I read this article with such pleasure!Two years ago I dedicated an entire semester of graduate school doing research on the topic of betting on human races! I would love to share if you are interested 🙂