Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Mon, 10 Dec 2001 08:59:06 -0500

Cheaters Never Win

RUNNING COMMENTARY 387

If Martin Franklin intended to expose himself to maximum ridicule, he couldn't have picked a better place to do it. New York City is the world's leading media center, so its marathon ranks among the world's most heavily publicized.

New York City's marathon also is a Chip event whose scoring system makes cheating almost impossible to hide. Yet Franklin, from Washington state, still tried to cheat in this race.

After "finishing" 19th overall, and fifth in the concurrent U.S. Championships, with 2:18:44, he was quickly exposed as a fraud. He hadn't Chipped in at any scoring mat except the last one and hadn't been spotted at any visual checkpoint.

His story soon made the rounds on the wire services. Runner's World Online carried several news items and Steve Holman's scathing column on the subject. I'm happy to do my small part in continuing to hold Franklin up to the public scorn he earned with this act.

What Martin Franklin did was even worse than stupid. I'm not well read in the law, but this seems to have been an attempted criminal act for which he might have been prosecuted.

By pretending to be a legitimate marathon finisher, he tried to steal the $4500 that rightfully belonged to true fifth-place American Keith Dowling, who would have won no prize money if Franklin hadn't been caught. He also tried to bilk the Olympic Trials out of expense money as a phony A-standard "qualifier."

For the moment let's assume something that I don't really believe. Let's say that Franklin had decided not to run the whole way but had jumped onto the course near the end to pace certain runners (while he wore a number and a chip?) and had accidentally crossed the finish line. It still would have been stupid and still cheating. His punishment is having to live with this knowledge, and that legions of us now know what he tried to do in New York City. How can he ever show his face at a race again?

But don't be too quick to cast stones at him. His mistake was committing the great sin of trying to rip off another runner's place and prize money.

There are lesser ways to cheat, ways without such obvious victims or consequences. I confess to having sinned in most of these ways, and maybe you have too:

-- Running as an unregistered, unpaid bandit... or wearing someone else's number (and Chip).

-- Starting ahead of the starting line... or before the official starting time... or farther forward than your ability warrants, to "avoid the congestion."

-- Shortening the course by crossing lawns or cutting through gas stations at corners, thereby running less than the measured distance.

-- Jumping into midrace to pace someone... or recruiting such a pacer... or entering a race "for a workout" while never intending to go all the way.

Confession to these and other past transgressions helps us to live with them, and to go and sin no more. All are attacks on the basic self-policing honesty of the sport, and all are insults to the vast majority of runners who follow running's honor code.

That is, be true to yourself and the runners around you. True winners never cheat, and cheaters never win.

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