On April 4 at the Podium 5K in Barrowford, U.K., Scottish runner-turned-triathlete Beth Potter ran an amazing time of 14:41, surprising everyone (including herself) and beating the world record in the event. Potter’s result made headlines worldwide, but the party didn’t last for long, as World Athletics (WA) was quick to declare that it was unlikely that her run would be ratified as a world record. Possible reasons for this were thrown around online after the news broke, but Podium 5K founder and race director Chris Barnes heard why directly from WA officials, and he’s not too happy with the decision.
Potter represented Great Britain at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 world championships in the 10,000m before turning to professional triathlon. She has proven to be a great runner in the past, but it was still a massive shock when she crossed the line in Barrowford in 14:41, beating the world record of 14:43 that Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech set in Monaco a couple of months earlier. The news of Potter’s run travelled quickly, and Barnes says he received a message from WA soon after she finished.
“The second Beth had run that race, World Athletics were instantly in touch, asking if there was doping control,” Barnes says. “This was literally minutes after she crossed the line.” There weren’t any drug testers on site at the Podium 5K, which was an immediate red flag for WA, and Barnes was also informed that the race’s timekeeper didn’t have the proper certification for the result to be deemed official.
Both of these issues led to Potter’s time remaining unratified, and while she still owns one of the fastest 5K results in world history (Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei actually owns the fastest ever at 14:32, but she ran it before WA certified the road 5K as an official world record event), she will not be listed as the world record holder. While Barnes understands WA’s reasoning, he says the organization’s ratification system is flawed at its core.
“Beth wasn’t coming in for a world record,” he says. “It wasn’t even an official British record attempt. We’re not a major race, so we can’t afford to have testers and officials come.” Barnes says he knew his course, which is held on a 1K outdoor cycling track, was fast, but even so, he can’t pay to satisfy the WA ratification rules every year on the off-chance someone like Potter shows up and runs a record-breaking race.
Plus, the Podium 5K has seen a record — Marc Scott‘s British record of 13:20 that he ran in 2020 — and it was ratified without any issues. Barnes had the same setup at the 2020 event as he did this year, so it was fair to assume that any future records set on the course would also be ratified. “The rules on ratification need changing, I think,” he says. He points to the continuing evolution of running shoes, noting that so many of these new products have led to world records in the past few years. (Potter wore ASICS’s latest super shoe, the Metaspeed, for her run at the Podium 5K.)
“Now that we’ve got these super shoes, these records could go down anywhere, not just at races that are designed for world records,” Barnes says. It’s unlikely that WA will change the ratification system anytime soon, and while this is an annoyance for race directors like Barnes who organize small but still competitive events, he says there’s still a silver lining.
“If you ask people who the 5K world record holder is, I think 90 per cent of them would say, ‘Oh, that Scottish lady,'” Barnes says with a laugh. “Beth might not be listed as the official record holder, but I think people will still say she is.”