Byline: Pete Born

NEW YORK — Avon Products Inc., which was among the first to promote women’s marathon running only to leave the field in 1985, is back on track.
The company said Thursday that it is planning an annual global running competition involving 16 countries. James Preston, Avon’s chairman and chief executive officer, said the new program fits into Avon’s ongoing effort to promote women’s health and fitness. He estimated the first-year cost of the sponsorship at $5 million.
The program was outlined at a Manhattan press lunch that was attended by 10 champion runners, including three-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee; Joan Benoit Samuelson, who won the first Olympic women’s marathon in 1984, and Grete Waitz, Olympic silver medalist and nine-time winner of the New York City Marathon.
Called the Avon Running Global Women’s Circuit, the program will consist of 10-kilometer runs and five-kilometer power-walking competitions. There will be races in 10 U.S. cities next year.
There also will be events in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Panama, the Phillipines, Thailand, the U.K. and Venezuela.
A global championship will be held in 1999. The top prize will be $50,000, the richest purse ever offered for a 10-kilometer race, according to Avon executives.
Winners of the American regional races will be sent to the November finals outside Chicago, and the top runners from each of the national finals around the world will go to the global championship.
Kathrine Switzer, director of Avon Running, said that in addition to the winner, the first Avon representative to cross the finish line in each race will also be sent to the finals.
Avon’s connection with women’s road racing goes back to 1978, when it started sponsoring marathon events.
Avon withdrew its sponsorship in the mid-Eighties, however, as the company came under increasing financial pressure, Preston noted. Since then Avon’s business has turned around and the company is back in the game.

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