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Recent Marathon Disqualifications Spark Debate

October 12, 2009 02:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Officials from Wisconsin's Lakefront Marathon have disqualified two women that finished first and second in the race, irking some and calling to mind previous marathon flukes.

One Race, Two Disqualifications

The first place finisher, 23-year-old Marquette University student Cassie Peller, was disqualified from the 2009 Lakefront Marathon for accepting a water bottle that did not come from an official race water station. That left Jennifer Goebel, a 27-year-old massage therapist who lives in Lombard, Ill., the winner of the Oct. 4 race. But two days later, when officials saw "an iPod tucked into the waistband of her shorts" in race photos, Goebel was also disqualified, according to Tom Held of the Journal Sentinel. That has pushed Corina Canitz from Brookfield, Wis., into first place.

USA Track and Field (USATF) rules state that elite runners "competing for USATF championships and or cash prizes are not allowed to use electronic devices." But Goebel has disputed the ruling and maintained that if she is disqualified for using an iPod, then every runner with an iPod should also be disqualified. According to Held, Goebel has agreed to give up the $500 prize, but wants her ranking and time of 3:02:50 to "remain in the official results."

"If you're bored, it pumps you up a little bit," Goebel was quoted as saying in the Journal Sentinel. "Sometimes, on a long training run, I'll bring it along for the last half hour. When I run marathons sometimes I carry it and never put it on."

An official from USATF said Goebel's disqualification "may be a first in the country," as race directors are now allowed to determine whether to ban iPods during races, Held reported.

According to Runner’s World, several cities, including Austin and San Francisco, now allow iPods and headphones in their marathons. One race director told Runner’s World, “There was no stopping grown people from using them, so what was the point?” Many races, however, “still encourage runners to lower the volume and keep one ear free,” Runner’s World reports. 

Opinion & Analysis: Necessary requirement or silly rule?

In an article for CNET, Chris Matyszczyk contends that marathon runners should be allowed to "eat, drink and listen to whatever gets them to the other end of the experience." Matyszczyk describes the suffering withstood by marathoners, and the seemingly ridiculous stipulations that can stand in their way.

"Anyone who believes it will improve their life to don a pair of New Balance and run until their knees squeak like wounded varmints should not be subjected to silly little rules," he asserts. Especially because Goebel only turned on her iPod for miles 19 through 21, when most marathon runners "are ready to eat raw elk and physically assault a mail box."

Background: Unexpected marathon finishes and disqualifications

In November 2008, Kenyan native Nicholas Kurgat, a resident of Chapel Hill, N.C., had registered for the Rex Healthcare Half-Marathon contest at the City of Oaks Marathon in Raleigh, N.C. A first-time half-marathoner, he did not see the sign indicating where to head into the finishing chute so, at mile 13, he decided to continue for the full course.

Kurgat finished the 26.2 mile-course in just under two hours, 20 minutes, a time considered elite even for experienced marathoners. But as Kurgat was not officially a competitor in the full marathon, he was disqualified from the event. And, not having properly completed the half-marathon, he was disqualified from that as well. Both disqualifications are required by the guidelines of USA Track & Field.

A competitor in San Francisco missed a running crown due to no fault of her own. Arien O'Connell, a fifth-grade teacher in New York City, ran the fastest time at San Francisco's 2008 Nike Women's Marathon, finishing in 2:55:11. She was not in the "elite" category, however, so she wasn't named a winner until after an outpouring of public opposition.

In 1978, another unlikely finish happened in the New York City Marathon: Track star Grete Waitz, well-known for her success in the 1500 and 3000-meter races, shocked the field by winning and setting the world record. According to an excerpt from the book "First Marathons," the race was Waitz's first marathon, and she'd been entered in the race only as a "rabbit," to go out and "set a fast pace," Waitz explained to author Gail Kislevitz. It was supposed to have been the last race before her retirement, but she went on to win the New York City Marathon nine times. She bettered her world record and set a new one in 1980, finishing in 2:25:42, according to Kislevitz.

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