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Philadelphia Marathon finisher’s Olympic dreams shattered after water bottle rule violation

A formal complaint from a race official brought attention to the water bottle infraction, disqualifying Ethan Hermann from the results

water station marathon

In running, seconds can make or break dreams. The 2023 Philadelphia Marathon brought a mix of triumph and heartbreak, especially for one of the top American men’s finishers, Ethan Hermann.

The Philadelphia native finished the marathon in sixth overall, running an impressive 2:17:03 in his debut marathon, nearly a minute under the 2024 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying mark of 2:18:00. However, hours after Hermann crossed the finish line, his dreams were shattered when his result was disqualified due to his coach handing him a water bottle at a water station.

According to Citius Mag, which first reported the story, Hermann’s coach, in a well-intentioned act of support, handed him a water bottle at a water station. However, according to USATF rules, because Hermann did not personally grab the bottle, it constituted a violation due to the “inequality of resources offered to athletes.”

Hermann’s time has been removed from the official Philadelphia Marathon results, and it will not count for the 2024 Olympic Trials qualification.

Speaking to Citius Mag about the situation, Hermann said he does not fully agree with the rule, but understands it. “I just have to learn from it and move forward, and take on the next challenge in time,” he said. Despite the disqualification, Hermann remains positive about his result, stating, “I’m at peace and walking away knowing that my mission of qualifying for the Olympic Trials was accomplished–even if the start list will say otherwise.”

A formal complaint from a race official brought attention to Hermann’s infraction, leaving race organizers in a challenging position, due to the specificity of the USATF Competition Rule 144. “No competitor taking part in competition shall be allowed, without the permission of the Referee or Judges, to receive assistance or refreshment from anyone during the progress of the competition.”

Philadelphia Half Marathon
Photo: Philadelphia Marathon/Facebook

“I had a special day and ran my heart and legs out, but I was not as educated as I thought about everything. Not all the right things happened the way they needed to, and I was ultimately given a disqualification from the race,” wrote Hermann.

The bottle rule only applies to USATF races. At the 2022 Berlin Marathon, the notorious Bottle Claus helped Eliud Kipchoge lower the marathon world record to 2:01:09 at the time, personally handing him bottles at every water station.

Eliud Kipchoge’s “drinks guy” is back for the Berlin Marathon

In a world where one false start results in automatic disqualification and triathletes face penalties for rule violations, the severity of Hermann’s case has been questioned on social media. What is the time value of a water bottle handed to a runner throughout a marathon? And how much time does it save a marathoner compared to picking it up from the elite table?

A hashtag #FreeEthan has been pushed by Citius Mag and the U.S. running community to permit Hermann to run at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials scheduled for Feb. 3 in Orlando, Fla.

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