When the best marathoners in the country toe the line of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon on February 13 in Los Angeles, California, it will be for many the peak of their athletic achievements. But just reaching that start carries a hefty price tag, not the least of which is a $30 entry fee charged by U.S.A. Track and Field (USATF) for the privilege of competing for an Olympic berth. Roll Recovery, a Boulder, Colorado company that designs recovery tools, thought this fee was too much, so it announced on Friday it would reimburse all qualified runners.
“It struck us as silly,” Jeremy Nelson, founder of Roll Recovery, told Outside. Nelson is closer to the sport than most running fans, and it's not just because of his company: both his wife Adriana Nelson and sister-in-law Brianne Nelson will be competing in the trials, and four of his nine-person staff have also qualified for the race.
A $30 fee may not seem like much, but according to Hoka Northern Arizona Elite coach Ben Rosario, himself a former professional runner who currently coaches four trials competitors, any price comes as a surprise, especially since the race has a large enough draw to be broadcast on NBC and was located in Los Angeles in part because of this.
“They are the talent. They are the entertainment,” Rosario said of trials runners. During an era where half of the U.S.’s top-ten track and field athletes are making less than $15,000 a year, according to one survey, a $30 entry fee piles insult to an already injured profession.
Jill Geer, chief public affairs officer for USATF, said that trials entry fees help offset administrative costs of the race, adding, “All entrants pay an entry fee, including athletes in the track and field Olympic Trials.”
Currently there are 168 men and 202 women that have declared for competition at the marathon trials. While it’s not guaranteed that all of them will contact Roll Recovery for reimbursement, that’s a potential bill of over $11,000—a galling amount for a small company.
Nelson admits that there may be a wince when his company gets the final bill. “But we think it’s the right thing to do.”