Cheating? What Cheating?

When it comes to races, I'm rather old fashioned. I don't care about a medal for finishing. Music on the course is of no interest to me. I'm donating the t-shirt no matter how stylish it is, and I couldn't care less about the expo, post-race party or other peripherals. In fact all I want from a race is a safe, well-marked course, and quick, accurate results free of obvious inaccuracies. You'd think that would be easy enough to find. You'd be wrong. Mind you, I'm not talking about subtle cases that would require careful examination and analysis. I'm talking about jump off the page, "Yo, check this shit out!", obvious stuff. The kind of cheating that only professional wrestling refs who don't notice a guy swinging a folding chair right behind them could miss. It was just such implausible numbers that caught my attention, and that of several others, at this spring's NYRR Brooklyn Half Marathon, a race that had mats every 5k, and (ostensibly for the sake of accuracy) had two B-tags in each bib.

Quickly glancing at results for the first 1000 men, you quickly see that there were exactly two who missed more than one mat during the race:

  • Runner X had never had an age-graded ranking of over 42, and hasn't broken that ranking since Brooklyn. But somehow he managed a 72 at the Brooklyn Half and no one at NYRR seems to have found anything fishy. And did I mention that there are no photos of him from the race? To this day, he remains in the official results.
  • Runner Y had consistently scored age-graded rankings in the high 70s and low 80s before Brooklyn, where he ranked 91, which was the best of the day for any man and was good enough to win his age group. There are no images of him during the race at NYRR's official photo partner. He also inexplicably missed two consecutive mats during the Prospect Park section of the race - a section where one could easily skip a lap of the park and head to the finish early. Runner Y's pace from start to 5K sensor (distance: 5K) was 6:35 per mile. His pace from 5K sensor to 20K sensor in which he missed both intermediate sensors (distance: 15K; elapsed time: 53:47) was  5:46 per mile. Runner Y's pace from 20K sensor to finish, when he was once again registering (distance: 1.09K), was 6:47 per mile. His final time was nearly nine minutes faster than in 2013 and 2014, where he showed great consistency, with finishing times within seconds of one another. In addition, Runner Y was nearly two minutes behind the eventual second place finisher in the AG at 5k, and won by approximately one minute. Despite knowing him, runners who finished behind him in the AG and were ahead at 5k say they did not notice him pass. As with Runner X, his results (and award) are still in tact despite an official protest being made by his competition.

It would seem to me that even if it initially slipped past, once the data was presented, that anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex and desire to do the right thing would clearly see that something was rotten in Brooklyn. Sadly, when confronted with the data presented above, officials at NYRR said that nothing's conclusive and they are not adjusting the results. Consider the fact that with even a modest 95% success rate for each tag, the odds of a runner not registering at two consecutive mats is 1 in 160,000. Add in his acceleration for the missing 15k that he was missing,  he nearly matched his pace from the 5th Avenue Mile. If that's not conclusive, what is? I fail to understand the purpose of having extra mats and redundant timing tags if you're going to ignore when a runner misses them.

Making matters worse, instead of confronting the issue head on, Runner Y's team has said it's up to NYRR to decide if anything's wrong. They've been unable or unwilling to provide photos of their runner during the sections in which he was missing. They've been unwilling or unable to explain how their runner accelerated by nearly one minute per mile. They have been contacted by those who filed the protest, and by those who were ostensibly beaten by Runner Y, but rather than providing those parties with an explanation as to the seemingly implausible results, they have asked not to be bothered with the matter. If there is in fact an explanation, and he did in fact cover the whole course, I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd like to hear it. I have friends among Runner Y's club, so I hoped for a more thorough response from their leadership. In the past, I've literally lost sleep because I had suspicions about the performance of one of my runners, even though no one else noticed. (In hindsight, perhaps I should have been more proactive in addressing it even if no one asked me to). But I assure you that if I am ever confronted by officials or another runner regarding the actions of one of my athletes, I will deal with it head on, out of respect for all involved. I will not turn a blind eye or pass the buck.

As for NYRR, as recently as last year, I wrote to commend them for their removal of most of the obvious cheaters from their Marathon results, and for spending the extra money and effort to place mats every mile for the last ten of the race. In other words, I have no gripe with NYRR in general, and no problem giving them credit when it is due In fact, there are many people there whom I respect and consider friends. But in this case, their willful blindness to this issue is offensive to me, to those affected by the apparent inaccuracies, and presumably to all who care about fair play in our sport.