THE WEDNESDAY COLUMN
2001-02-28The introduction of the ChampionChip system has proved an invaluable aid in the detection of runners who do not complete the entire Marathon course. At London the marathon route makes it quite simple to cut off a significant section as we use one stretch of road in both directions. Before we started using the Chip we always believed that a number of runners used this shortcut but now we have much more evidence in our battle against these sad people.
Immediately after our race each spring we produce a printout of the full result, including split times at halfway and every 10k. In addition there are other mats which are used - one that is in place to help our Official Photographer and another that is positioned on that part of the course which most cheats would not pass. In addition to these mats we can also call upon the photographs taken at various parts of the course by our Photographers, and as these all have a timing device built in to the mechanism it is possible to know exactly where a runner was, and when. Just in case this does not provide all of the evidence that we need we also use a couple of video cameras, unannounced, at strategic points along the route!
We start our check by examining the split times to ensure that they all fit and make sense. This is a long job, but the ChampionChip system is capable of highlighting obvious anomalies - which can be a great help. Our examination usually identifies about 60 possible cheats. We then request copies of the official photographs for these 60, which can prove either innocence or guilt. Our photographers usually manage to get shots of over 90% of the field at all of their locations and therefore the absence of photos often adds to our concern.
After we have examined the photos and the split times we manage to reduce our list of suspects to around 40 - we then write to these unners explaining that we cannot trace them along the entire route and asking if there are any factors that we may not have taken in to consideration. The answers are often very funny, but also very sad.
Most of those challenged in this way either do not respond, because they are unable to provide an honest and likely explanation, or offer explanations that do not bear scrutiny. My Chip came off so I carried it and only put it back on near the finish - and I had a stitch in the first half which is why I managed to run the second half in 58.
After a reasonable amount of time we can easily see who did and who did not cover the full route. Those that did are sent their photographs, those who we believe cheated receive a letter advising them that they have been removed from the results and that we would prefer not to receive another entry from them - usually about 30 people each year.
One big question is why people do try to cheat. We don believe that runners enter with the intention of cheating.
Our event is a huge fund raising opportunity. We know that last year more than £25m was raised by our competitors for a wide variety of charities. The TV audience is massive and nearly everyone who watches the event knows someone who is competing and trying to raise money for a charity dear to their hearts. The pressure on the unners to finish is tremendous but few are regular runners, most have decided that it is time that they did something constructive in their lives and have undertaken a crash course in the weeks and months before race day.
During this short, and often painful, preparation many find that they become injured or sore or sick and they decide not to run on race day. We try to help this group by holding their entry over until the following year, and thousands take up this offer. The problem lies with those who don follow this sensible route, or who run in to difficulties in the last part of their preparation. They turn up at the start with little chance of reaching the finish and often make the decision to cut off part of the course when they are under most pressure.
Do we have a responsibility to remove these people from the results, should we make some sort of announcement that they have been caught cheating or should we just quietly remove them from the results and let them come to terms with their own conscience - We have chosen the latter course, rightly or wrongly.
Flora London Marathon
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