Pushy, cheating road runners give SA a bad name

2008-11-21 00:00

THE comparison of time versus distance is the crux of any performance ranking, be it to see our personal improvement or evaluate our ability in relation to others.

We run for diverse reasons, ranging from socialising and health to the challenges provided by distance or speed, but for most road runners, the focus and outcome of a race depend on covering an accurate distance.

For some runners, the reward may be the challenge of the distance and time may be irrelevant. For others, time and distance are secondary to their position in the field — but even then it is relevant when everyone follows the same route.

What then motivates the growing group of road runners intent on cheating by cutting the official course? Is it about prize money? A higher finish and bragging rights? Surely not ignorance of the rules?

There’s a reason it’s called road running — we run on the road. Not the pavement, not the grass (known as cross country), but between the curb-lines.

As soon as you climb off the road, questions should be triggered as to the legality of the chosen line.

We’re not talking about a wayward foot on the pavement at a corner, or being squeezed into a short cut in a crowded road, but rather a deliberate ignoring of a marshal, breaking through red barrier tape, or as recently witnessed on TV, running through private property to carve 20 or so metres from the distance.

It is said that such runners only cheat themselves, but in truth they are cheating the sport and everyone involved in it, eroding its credibility.

While corner-cutting is bad enough, the last few years have seen even greater challenges at mass events.

It seems all runners believe they have a right to be on the start line. It is both disrespectful and disruptive to fellow runners and can lead to life-threatening situations.

Arguably it commenced a decade or so ago when lead runners jumped fences to get into the start of Comrades or Two Oceans before the advent of seeding.

With over 200 metres of open road behind them, 6 000 Soweto 10-km runners trampled a two-metre-high municipal fence at the start of the race. This only aggravated a situation where there had been a 100% increase in race numbers in the final three days.

Similarly, 5 000 marathon runners trampled the two-metre-high fence separating the top 200 seeded elite runners, simply to get to the front of a 12 metre-wide start line.

Bear in mind there is absolutely nothing behind these runners forcing them into a panic. What gives these runners the right to destruction of property, endangerment of life and total disrespect of fellow runners?

Make no mistake, this is a South African thing. In London, 35 000 runners are walked toward the start in groups of 500. New York, Berlin and marathons around the world are controlled by two or three people holding a single rope.

During lunch with international technical officials on the last day of the Beijing Olympics, the discussion switched to misconduct at road races.

Two Australians related stories of runners insisting on being able to enter after closing date, others pushing into the seeded area at the start and jumping in ahead of the start after the gun.

I inquired if any of these were South Africans who had “packed for Perth”.

“Well, yes, the majority are. We didn’t want to say that because you were here,” they apologised.

I travel the world as a proud South African, but that lunch left me embarrassed by our export quality. Proudly South African? Not on that occasion.

The question is, how do we rescue the reputation and credibility of South Africa’s road-running sport?

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