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What Happened at the Mexico City Marathon?

Posted by: on September, 18 2017

Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Andrew Dawson

Every race has its problems. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes a course error causes runners to go the wrong way, or a train causes delays. More and more often, races have to deal with runners attempting to cheat. But the Mexico City Marathon, held August 27, had problems on an entirely different level.

More than 5,800 people were disqualified from the marathon after an investigation revealed that over 20 percent of participants failed to complete the course. Of those disqualified, 1,296 posted times that would have qualified them for the Boston Marathon.

According to the official results released Thursday 28,206 runners crossed the finish line. Soon after the race, however, a Facebook page was started that indicated many participants had been seen cutting the course. In one photo posted on the page, runners (their faces are obscured) appear to be taking the train during the race—though this has not been confirmed.

Derek Murphy, founder of the website Marathon Investigation, started looking into the results after the cheating allegations were brought to his attention. Once he analyzed the results, he noticed some peculiarities and posted his findings on September 12.

There were eight timing mats along the course, he noted, but only 64 percent of race finishers appear to have clocked in at every one of them. This means that 10,046 people missed at least one timing mat. 291—a full one percent of the race’s finishers appear to have missed all eightmats.

“At first I was like, there’s no way; that’s a huge number of people,” Murphy told Runner’s World by phone. “This is the most substantial number that I have ever seen.”

Runners failing to cross timing mats was not the only potential problem. While scanning race photos, he noticed a number of participants potentially wearing other people’s bibs or even wearing two bibs. One man was discovered wearing an extra bib which belonged to a woman named “Maria” who ended up with a Boston Qualifying time. It’s not clear that this was happening more often than at other races, however.

Other anomalies suggest that the race was having technological problems. Murphy notes that, according to one of his sources, “There were 4,600 runners that were within 1.5 seconds of the gun time. You can’t have that many people starting at the same time. And there are some [other] oddities,” he continued. “There are some runners whose chip times show them crossing before the race’s start time. There’s still a lot to look at.”

Unofficial race results were updated several times by organizers while Murphy conducted his investigation. Roughly 5,500 people had had their results disqualified while he was looking into the incident, and when the official race results were released Thursday, he found that the number of finishers had increased and 300 more people had been disqualified.

“I’m not going to say all 5,800 runners—or anyone that missed a mat—cheated,” Murphy said. “It’s a bigger number than I’ve ever seen. It’s kind of baffling to find this much error.”

Course cutting appears to be the reason for the bulk of the disqualifications, but the race has not released an official statement, and officials have not responded to inquiries. Murphy is still analyzing the results, and recently pulled the 2016 results to compare. He will continue to investigate, and post updates to his site.

“I think if it turns out to be a timing error and they disqualified a bunch of runners for an error on their end, that would be really bad for them,” Murphy said. “If there were even 4,000 disqualified because of timing issues, I don’t think you can trust any of the results.”

Registration for the Boston Marathon opened on Monday. The Boston Athletic Association has confirmed they will not accept disqualified applicants, and that, given the race’s issues, “the qualifying performances we’ve received have gotten an extra look.”

If you, or someone you know ran this race, we’d love to hear from you! Send an email to rwdaily@rodale.com, and we’ll be in touch. Thanks