The ultra-trail community in Western Canada is close-knit, and it’s not unusual for race directors and podium finishers to be acquainted. So what happens when it turns out that someone you know and like, who won your race, broke the rules on his way to victory? Whistler Alpine Meadows race director Gary Robbins found himself in this situation recently when it became known that the 110K winner, Mike Sidic (whose time was 14:57), had run part of the course with non-registered runners (pacers are not allowed) and accepted aid outside an aid station. Sidic was assessed a one-hour penalty, and Robbins is receiving kudos for his sensitive and appropriate handling of the situation.
Robbins describes in an Instagram post how numerous people observed Sidic running with friends who showed up to surprise him, for about a kilometre. He also accepted a sip of water and briefly let someone carry his poles, and one of his friends, who offered him “minimal assistance,” posted a video on social media, exposing Sidic to the risk of disqualification.
Robbins says that Sidic was honest about what had happened, and said his friends surprised him–he did not know they would be there. And when he realized after the first sip that he should not accept water from them, he declined further assistance.
Robbins says that “a few” people in the race organization (WAM is part of the Coast Mountain Trail Series, which Robbins runs with his partner, Geoff Langford) felt that Sidic should be disqualified. They settled on a one-hour penalty, making Sidic’s official time 15:57 instead of 14:57. Since Sidic won by more than an hour and 20 minutes, the podium results are unaffected.
“This should in no way taint Mike’s performance, or the character of the person,” says Robbins. Earlier in the post, he writes, “Mike is a regular at our races, one of the top trail runners in all of Canada, and a stand up guy that we all know, appreciate and admire.” He also says that Sidic’s friends should have known better. But are these comments relevant, in the circumstances? Would he have made them if the winner was someone he didn’t know personally? Do the rules not apply if it appears the runner wasn’t purposely cheating?
It recalls a situation last year at Hardrock where frontrunner Xavier Thévenard was disqualified for very similar reasons (accepting aid and water outside an aid station), though in that case, the issue was resolved before the race ended, rather than two weeks after the fact. Race director Dale Garland received criticism for taking what some saw as a harsh stance, especially when, as some pointed out, the rules at European races (Thévenard is French) are slightly different, and suggesting that a time penalty would have been more appropriate. But even Kilian Jornet, who is also European, defended the decision. Thévenard went on to win UTMB two months later.
The comments on Robbins’ Instagram post are almost all positive and supportive of how the situation was handled. One commenter felt that an hour’s penalty was too harsh.
Update: This story has been amended to reflect some of the race director’s comments on the story that was published earlier today. Robbins informed us that the penalty was assessed immediately after the race. In response to the questions posed above, Robbins’s response was “Yes I would have made these same comments regardless. Yes I would have dealt with this in the same manner regardless of the name on the result.” He further commented that he does not know Sidic outside the context of his races, and that “he did not receive any favouritism in the slightest.”