Is it okay for elite athletes to drop out of a race? I don't think there are many people that would question an athlete's decision to drop out of a race if they were injured, but what about if the race just isn't going their way and they know that on that particular day they aren't going to finish in the money? In my opinion, it depends upon the circumstances.
If an elite athlete is being paid an appearance fee to run a race, then the only DNFs should come from an actual illness or injury.
However, if they are not getting an appearance fee and need to actually win the race in order to get their cash, and they are convinced that they will be unable to do so, then it doesn't bother me if they drop out.
I might lose a little respect for somebody for dropping out because it was too cold, but not if pressing on would prevent them from winning their race the next week and they had no chance of finishing in the money.
As somebody who has won a minimal amount of money racing so far, I would not begrudge their pay day.
Elite athletes don't casually run a few local races.
They travel across the country and across the world for months at a time to both train and to compete.
An elite or semi-elite runner may run a half dozen marathons or other big races in any given year; most amateur marathoners will only run one or two long races and a bunch of short local races.
That being said, if somebody makes a habit of dropping out of a race as soon as things do not go well, then I would expect that not only would their career be stunted by an inability to perform, but they would probably lose their sponsors fairly easily as well.
Some people may have the perception that one of the main things that separates us from the elites is the ability of those at the top of our sport to tough it out, to endure more pain than we can.
I would say that there is a bigger difference between whether or not they can gut out the distance.
Elite athletes will generally tend to have more efficient cardiovascular systems than the majority (but not all) of the amateur athletes that they meet.
Nobody who was not at least athletically inclined would be able to make a career in any professional sport.
The largest advantage that elite athletes have over amateurs, though, is that they have more time to train.
More importantly, they have more time to rest.
Amateur athletes have to hold down jobs, and even sitting behind a desk can be exhausting.
Amateur athletes have to schedule their workouts around their work schedules and their family schedules, while professionals can generally just need to schedule their work around their family.
A professional athlete may very well work much harder than somebody that sits in front of a computer, but the person that sits in front of a computer may spend nearly as much time actually exercising as the elite athlete.