Marathon winner who wasn't

By Gerrard Lai

KENYAN runner Willy Kipkemoi Rotich, 20, finished first at last weekend's Sundown Marathon, but everyone thought a Richard Habeya had won.

Rotich clocked 2hr 53min 13sec when he crossed the 42.195km finishing line, but was disqualified by race organisers HiVelocity for competing with another person's race tag.

He had raced using participant number tag E6121 belonging to Mr Habeya, a 24-year-old Nigerian, who did not race despite registering for the marathon. A check with Mr Habeya by the race organisers revealed that he was aware of this.

Rotich's sham was discovered when organisers performed their duty of calling the winners to double-check that their race timings as well as their particulars were correct.

HiVelocity general manager Benjamin Wee said: "We have tried to contact Willy on numerous occasions but he could not be reached.

"He seems to be uncontactable and is not replying to the numerous messages we have left for him."

The race directors disqualified Rotich based on Mr Habeya's admission that the former had ran in his place. The top prize for the Men's Open category – which Rotich had run under – was $500 cash, among other prizes.

Finishers from second to eleventh place have been moved up the ranking ladder, with runner-up Ahmad Lamchannak, 30, of Morocco, who clocked 3:09:11, becoming the new winner.

While this may be the first time someone has raced competitively using another person's race tag in the Sundown Marathon, the act is not alien to Rotich.

Earlier in April, he raced in the Baguio 21km race in the Philippines using the tag of another Kenyan, Daniel Koringo.

He was disqualified two weeks after that race when he tried to cash the winnings at a bank using Mr Koringo's passport.

Mr Wee explained that the organisers do verify details when athletes collect their race packs a week prior to the race.

He added: "But on the day of the race, we relied on everyone's...integrity. That is a value every sports event must strive to promote."

When told about the fraud, 22-year-old Jack Ong, who ran the Sundown marathon, was surprised but felt that Rotich deserved the glory and award for being the one to run and finish the race in record time.

Half-marathon runner Kris Tan, 30, was also ready to accord Rotich respect for managing to clinch the winning spot with a clear margin.

However, the partner of a digital advertising firm disagreed with the idea of racing under another person's name as it may complicate identification in case of emergency.

"One could be unconscious and the only identification could be just the racing bib and this may delay help," he said.

gerrardl@sph.com.sg


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