Thursday, December 5, 2013

Meet Singapore's Rosie Ruiz.

[A quick aside: First of all, I'm seeing a few new readers coming over from the Venus Run blog-posts website. Welcome! 
I've actually signed up for the Venus Run again; it'll be on March 8 next year. 
It may start going downhill, end on a rather painful uphill, and involve a bright pink shirt, but other than that the event is well-organised and great fun. It's fairly small - registration is capped at 5,000. And there aren't many short sharp timed 5ks - I want to know whether I'm getting better at this distance over time.
NB - I pay for my own race entries.) 

Rosie Ruiz may just be the most famous runner to have not-won a marathon. In 1980, she notoriously cut the course of the prestigious Boston Marathon to nip in ahead of the real winner, Canadian runner Jacqueline Gareau. Fortunately two Harvard student spectators noticed her bursting out of the crowd near the end to enter the course, and exposed her as a fraud.

This year's Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore had its very own Rosie Ruiz, too, who is giving the original Rosie Ruiz a run (...or...not...?) for her money. Read this staggering story:
'Mystery 'winner' just wanted T-shirt and medal' 
Chua Siang Yee, The Straits Times, December 5, 2013 
PASTRY chef Tam Chua Puh admitted yesterday that he took a short cut in last Sunday's marathon, but said he never meant to be the first Singaporean to cross the finishing line.
When the unknown beat SEA Games-bound marathoner Mok Ying Ren to the top spot, it caused a two-hour delay as officials scrambled to check.
Mr Tam, 43, who ran barely 6km of the 42.195km route, told The Straits Times yesterday that he did not mean to cause any trouble. All he wanted was the finisher's T-shirt and medal.
In fact, he also admitted, he had done the same thing in two previous marathons, but was disqualified both years.
"I am sorry if I offended anyone. I never thought I would create so much inconvenience for the organisers," he said.
His explanation came three days after the controversy over his finishing time of 2hr 46min 57sec, well ahead of all the best Singaporean racers.
Emcees at the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore initially declared him the winner of the Singapore men's category, before he was disqualified for missing all but one of the race checkpoints.
Racer Mok was then crowned the winner with a time of 2hr 54min 17sec.
Yesterday, Mr Tam said he had lasted only about 6km of the race and gave up because his left knee ached.
"I stopped at the Esplanade because my knee was too sore. I got hit by a car when I was 12, and my knee hasn't been okay since," he said.
But he was determined to collect his T-shirt and medal.
"After resting at the bus stop, I made my way back to the finishing line. I saw some Kenyans run past, and I thought I saw some local runners run past too, so I assumed it was safe to return to the race. I didn't expect to be the first Singaporean to finish."
The runners he spotted going past were the leading foreigners.
Mr Tam said he finished the 2011 and 2012 races the same way. Both times, he covered about 19km before giving up. Each time, he approached the medical vans and got a ride to the end point, where he resumed running and crossed the finishing line.
Asked if he did not think that was cheating, he said: "It never crossed my mind. Having signed up for the marathon, I just wanted to cross the finishing line."
Before last Sunday's race, he was issued a red bib, for runners expected to finish in more than five hours.
Married with one child, he said he picked up running in 2011 and runs mostly on weekends, 1km each time.
He seemed perplexed to be asked what possessed him to do what he did in the race.
"I never thought about going home midway. It would have been like giving up. I like running because I love nature, and I enjoy looking at the sights along the way. Winning never crossed my mind."

This is one of the most bizarre and funny race-bandit stories I've ever heard - I can't even get mad at the guy because he just sounds so spectacularly naive.

Here's something everyone ought to learn in kindergarten (what are kindergartens teaching these days??): if you don't finish the race, you shouldn't get the t-shirt and medal. That's why it's called a finisher tee. Would you drop out of a university course midway, show up for the graduation ceremony and then insist you should get the certificate because you paid to sign up? Um, no...

Second basic principle of running: If you're not trained for a full marathon, don't sign up for it!
You know, there is a 10km category. Maybe he thought that the 10km marathon was the same as the 42km marathon?

Even if you're just trying to complete a full marathon, you still have to train to complete the whole distance. That means running more than 1km at a time and more than just on weekends. If you don't want to put in that much time, there are lots of other shorter events that you can do safely.

Still more hilariously, he did the exact same thing twice before - in 2011 and 2012. And was disqualified both times. So here's where it gets serious: why didn't the organisers simply bar him from entering again?

Cutting a race course doesn't just hurt only the top Singaporean finishers. It hurts everyone who came in after you. That includes the local middle- and back-of-the-pack-ers (I am one) who've worked their butts off to actually train for this, no matter how long they take. It causes chaos for the runners and for the organisers.

It didn't help that the organisers' timing system really did fail to capture runners at certain checkpoints - reason number 2 I'm rather disappointed in the organisers of what is supposed to be Singapore's flagship marathon.

But where is this impulse to cheat - or naivete like Mr Tam's - coming from? We promote running as a great way to get healthy, to improve cardiovascular fitness, to lose some weight; and running is the biggest participant sport in Singapore. All that is terrific. But there is no one teaching Singaporeans about proper training, race ethics, or even ordinary running etiquette. Running is a broad church that welcomes all comers, but it looks as though sometimes it also needs to hold their hand.


  1. I just don't understand the way some people's minds work. Why enter a marathon if you're only doing 1k runs? Wouldn't you feel like a fraud crossing the finishers line if you haven't run the course? Baffling!

    1. I'm certain most runners here would never do this, but some people really do sign up just for the t-shirt and the medal. They think about the trappings rather than the experience of the run, which is a bit sad.

      I don't know why anyone would think 1k runs are sufficient training for a marathon - some basic familiarity with the internet would assure you otherwise.