Back in 2012, Lanni Marchant became the fastest women’s marathoner in Canada’s recent history, finishing the Rotterdam Marathon in a time of 2:31:50. Marchant’s time far surpassed the Olympic qualifying standard of 2:37:00. However, she did not meet Athletic Canada – the governing body of Canadian running – “A” standard of 2:29:55. In fact, no Canadian female had met the extremely strict standard since Silvia Ruegger set the Canadian standard in the marathon almost 27 years ago. Lanni Marchant was told by her country she could not compete on the world’s greatest stage at the 2012 London Olympics.
It’s not uncommon for countries to require times lower than the Olympic standard, but the Canadian qualifying time is considered pretty severe across the board. The qualifying time of 2:29:55 would be good enough for a 12th-place finish in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and sixth-place finish in the 2004 Athens Olympics. If you really want to microscope the facts, Marchant’s 2:31.55 time at Rotterdam would have been the eighth best time at the 2004 Games. But Athletic Canada considers the Olympic marathon too saturated for a Canadian to medal and thus, of little capitalistic return for their investment. We’re serious. Yep. Throw out the whole book on “the pride of representing your country” and “being able to compete” with the worlds greatest jargon. Even Canada – land of famously progressive prime minister Justin Troedeu, maple syrup, and hockey – wants a cut.
So, what do you do when you have checked all your boxes and put in the time, dedication and are still told maybe next time? If you’re Lanni Marchant, you break the Canadian marathon record.
In 2013, Marchant set the Canadian women’s marathon record at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, running exactly 2:28:00, blasting the Canadian record by almost two minutes and more than qualifying for the Canadian “A” standard. But in early June of 2016, Marchant got a phone call from Athletics Canada’s head coach informing her that running the marathon in Rio was probably not going to happen. His primary concern going into the games was to win medals. With the 10k on a Thursday and the marathon on Sunday, he feared Marchant wouldn’t have enough time to recover from one race to place in the other, despite her previous showmanship of being able to do just that.
In her exclusive interview with UNDO-Ordinary just before leaving for Rio, Lanni noted how the IOC- an organization with a long history of sex and gender inequalities especially in distance events – pretty much benevolently assumed women would not be capable of running both the 10k and the marathon in one Olympic Games through their action of scheduling both events within 72 hours of one another.
Now, just in case your eyes are glazing over when gender topics are brought up, here is a list of ten sexist moments that have taken place so far in this year’s Rio Olympics. We’re on day five, people. Let’s just say, the world of athletics has a long way to go before it becomes an equal platform for all sexes. Conversely, men have run both the 10k and the marathon repeated times throughout Olympic history and their running calendar for Rio has been set up with both races far enough apart for athletes to run in both and have a longer recovery time.
“It’s not my fault the IOC didn’t set the calendar thinking of the women in the races.” says Marchant, who fought back and eventually won her case to compete in both events this summer. After all, only by exposing it can we fix it.
Lanni has spent her life dong just that.
ONCE AN UNDERDOG
As a criminal defense attorney with a double degree – as well as being a Hall of Fame Inductee at The University of Tennessee, Chattanooga – Lanni thrives on a work/life/run balance that is grounded in a passionate advocacy for others.
“I’m a better runner when I’m lawyering and a better lawyer when I’m running. I kind of need both to keep me going – it’s unhealthy for me to be too focused on one or the other. You might go have a really bad workout or a really bad race, but if I screw up a case, that’s someone’s life I’m screwing up.” says Marchant.
Marchant has dedicated a huge portion of her life serving the underdog. But it’s fair to say that Marchant has always been a bit of an underdog herself. Growing up in London, Ontario as one of seven children, Lonni stood out as the misfit kid.
Her mother – being a figure skating coach who was always at the rink – found that sticking skates on her and her siblings and sending them to the open end of the rink was the perfect babysitter. Marchant’s sisters quickly took off with the sport, going on to become acclaimed athletes in their own right. Though Marchant outskated the older boys and enjoyed racing around the rink, she felt like she wasn’t getting challenged in figure skating…causing her to get in trouble. It didn’t help that her skating coach at the time seemed to play favorites and she was not one of them. The dynamic between the two led to her introduction to running, which took place as she ran punishment laps around the parking lot. Lucky for Lanni, she got to the point she enjoyed running more than ice skating, and after 14 years as an ice skater a light went off in her head: she was killing herself in a sport she didn’t really like much anymore.
“I also didn’t want to be old and washed up at 18” said Marchant.
When Lanni joined the running club up in London after she quit figure skating, she heard that scholarships were available to distance runners to pay for studies in America. She never looked back.
There was also a good amount of deprogramming to do once she left the skating game, like undoing and unlearning eating disorders (Lanni today is still a huge empowerment advocate for healthy bodies being promoted in female sports), as well as lighter subjects… like deciding when and where she wanted to wear mittens. But the work ethic and attention to details are things she still carries with her till this day.
ADVOCATING FOR OLYMPIC ATHLETES
Our relationship w/ authority isn’t just physical, it has transitioned to the digital and social media world as well. Cue, Rule 40, the blackout rule – a money motivated and controversial ban which allows the IOC to fundraise by granting its ‘Olympic Commercial Partners’ exclusive marketing rights to not only images and assets from Rio, but even a whole slew of words and phrases, including words like ‘effort’ and ‘performance’.
To break it down for you, the IOC, as well as country committees like the US Olympic committee, all have their own private sponsors. Those sponsors pay big bucks to be the title sponsors of the Olympic Games and they don’t want anyone else stealing their thunder when the spotlight comes (i.e. an athlete gets on the big stage and sends a thank you out to their small business shoe/drink sponsor, who has been the actual sponsor to foot the bill for the past four years and to actually get that athlete to the games, but isn’t an official Olympic sponsor).
Not all athletes can read between these lines, but Lanni sees through this and is an advocate for the tier 2 & 3 athletes who don’t get the big sponsorships, whom this rule most effectively hurts. More so, she sees how this has become pervasive in one particular area where athletes have been able to reach their personal influence from out under private sponsors: on social media.
This is really the first summer Olympic games we are seeing where both media and social media have this level of reach. Rule 40, prohibits sponsors and athletes from posting or sharing or thanking within the Olympic window – known as the blackout period – on their online handles. The lawyer and lover of words side of Lanni sees all the loopholes and how problematic this rule is, Marchant told UNDO,
“I can’t hashtag anything #roadtotheolympics. I can’t hashtag anything #2016, or #Rio. My question is how do you own those words? It’s really frustrating because it’s my private sponsors that have gotten me to where I am today.”
She goes on to add,
“This where it becomes really unfair. The top tier athletes who are sponsored by the top brands – those athletes are still allowed to tweet and post and thank and tag because those brands are IOC sponsors.” said Marchant. What that really does is completely slam the door and lock out 2 or 3 tier athletes visibility and ability to get sponsored at that level.
RUNNING CIRCLES & LOOPS
Everything comes full circle. There are patterns that we are all running in that no matter what do, whether we slow down, fall, take a water break, or are told, “maybe next time,” we continue to find ourselves finding ourselves back on our paths.
We spoke to Lanni 6 days before she left for the Olympics and she told us she was back running the same exact loops on the same intense hillsides of Spring Bank Park in London, Ontario that she did back in 10th grade, with the same running coach she had back then. After all, community equals support – whether its Marchant’s vocality in supporting barriers to be broken down for herself and fellow athletes, or that high school coach pouring back support to her. You have no idea how much support you have until you start expanding and making your cause bigger than yourself. You can only get out what you have put in.
“Not every runner gets to do what I’m doing. Not everyone gets to do to the Olympics. If other runners looked at that and thought, hey, I don’t get to go to the Olympics so I’m not going to cheer, the system would fail.” says Marchant. There’s no future if we don’t support each other through all phases of this human race.
I find that inspiration is a secret weapon that we all need to keep on us at all times. Armed with confirmation of our path, it becomes harder to stop. When I asked Lanni what her mantra or mandala was she had trouble believing that she even had one. Somethings are just so routine we don’t notice them.
After a moment of reflection however, she revealed that she keeps a slip of balled up paper in her pocket that reads, if it is to be it is up to me, which is a ten-word poem her brother wrote for her.
“If something amazing is going to happen, it’s up to you to make it happen. When people think magical things happen, it’s actually these small things happening every day all the little details or the little boxes you are checking that are what make the big boxes happen.”
Very wise words from a woman who checked all the boxes while continuing to think outside of them, and empowering change in the process.
The Women’s Marathon on the Sun, Aug 14, 5:30 AM
(w/ special thanks to @Oms4Shanthi for content edits)