It’s happened again. Someone who had signed up for a long-distance running race decided to pursue alternative modes of transportation in order to finish more quickly. In this most recent case, Scottish ultrarunner Joasia Zakrzewski competed in her own custom version of a duathlon– combining running with riding in a car.
I don’t think that’s a thing.
During the 2023 GB Ultras Manchester to Liverpool 50-mile race on 7 April, Zakrzewski reportedly was limping and got in a friend’s car to go to the next checkpoint to tell course marshals she was withdrawing. She says,
“When I got to the checkpoint I told them I was pulling out and that I had been in the car, and they said ‘you will hate yourself if you stop’,” Dr Zakrzewski said. “I agreed to carry on in a non-competitive way. I made sure I didn’t overtake the runner in front when I saw her as I didn’t want to interfere with her race.”
However, that’s not how the race ended. In fact, when she crossed the line– in third place– she was given a medal and a trophy and posed for pictures. At no point did she tell the race officials that her finish time was aided by a 2.5 mile car ride.
Race director Wayne Drinkwater was completely in the dark about this, too.
…At no point at the finish were the event team informed by Joasia that she was ‘not running the race competitively’.” … None of our event team in question, with written statements to confirm this, were aware that Joasia had vehicle transport at any time during the race until we received information after the race from another competitor.
It wasn’t until they received information from another competitor that they investigated.
Drinkwater said the organization received information that a runner had gained an “unsporting, competitive advantage during a section of the event.” Mapping data showed Zakrzewski covering a mile of the race in just 1 minute 40 seconds. Organizers learned she had traveled by car for 2.5 miles before continuing to complete the race on foot.
Of course, once all this came out, Joasia was iconsolable:
Joasia Zakrzewski said her actions were “not malicious” and the incident was caused by miscommunication… She said she was “devastated” by what had happened and extremely upset to see “haters” on social media calling for her to have a lifetime ban. “I’ve given so much to the running world so I am devastated this has happened,” she said.
Hmm… She’s “devastated” by what “happened”. It’s not like this was some geopolitical event occurring at the time of the race. She did this. These comments don’t acknowledge that she knowingly let the race officials put the medal on her, not the rightful 3rd-place winner, Mel Sykes. She even uploaded a photo and data from her running app on Twitter. All this suggests that she intended to hang onto her ill-gotten third-place finish. But when some folks looked at the Strava data, they found anomalies, and soon all was revealed.
This race wasn’t a special qualifying one, and there wasn’t even prize money for the winners. Not that such conditions would justify cheating, but they might explain it. There’s no real explanation here.
Cheating happens in athletic events, and it happens in running races. One of the most infamous cases happened in my town (Boston) in 1980 when Rosie Ruiz, an unknown runner, crossed the finish line, winning the women’s race. Canadian runner Jacqueline Gareau crossed the finish line for real in 2:34:28, but was denied her rightful glory. It took a week to suss out that Rosie Ruiz didn’t run the whole course. In fact, she took the T (the Boston subway) and popped out a mile or so from the finish. Taking public transport, while more ecologically conscientious than driving, is not an approved method for marathons.
Like Mel Sykes, Jacqueline Garneau did get recognition for her Boston finish. In 2005, she was the grand marshal for the Boston Marathon, and she was hailed and cheered while crossed the winner’s tape, albeit 25 years after she finished.
What’s the message here? It’s not that cheaters never win– sometimes they do. But here are some cases where a cheater’s win is fleeting, because a bunch of people are paying attention and care about fairness and fun in sport. Mel Sykes, in her Twitter feed, is looking ahead to more fun races, runs, walks and cafe stops along the way. Jacqueline Garneau looks happy in her picture at the Boston finish line. She looks happy here, too, posing with men’s winner Bill Rogers, both wearing the winners’ olive wreaths and medals.
If you want to read more about Garneau– what she’s doing now, how she feels about that day in Boston, look here. Tidbit: she forgave Rosie Ruiz. Joasia Zakrzewski may be forgiven as well. Once she learns how to apologize properly.
Readers, did you hear about this latest example of very bad athlete behavior? What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.