It seems not only stimulants and steroids are the cause of controversy in the Comrades Marathon. Over the years, athletes have been banned from the mega race for using dual timing chips, running in relay with a twin, and even catching a taxi.
In 1992, winner Charl Mattheus earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first disqualification in the history of the race after he was found to have traces of a stimulant in his urine. Weeks later, he was stripped of his title and gold medal.
First place was re-awarded to Jetman Msutu, who became the second black man to officially win the race.
But Mattheus denied using the stimulant and returned to the race in 1997 to win and clear his name.
The next year, the race was marred by another scandal when runner Herman Matthee caught a taxi to join the race on Fields Hill – 24km from the end – and finished in 7th place.
After a full-scale investigation he was disqualified and banned from the race for 10 years.
In 1999, 21-year-old Sergio Motsoeneng, who finished in 9th place, was disqualified and banned from the Comrades for five years after it was discovered he had run the race in relay with his twin brother, 19-year-old Fika Motsoeneng.
A probe was launched after a runner further back in the field complained that Sergio had not overtaken him. After examining time sheets and the results of the computer timing system, Comrades Marathon referees initially cleared him of cheating.
But the brothers’ plan was foiled after photographs from the race showed runner number 13018 at one stage wearing a yellow watch on his left wrist.
At another stage the runner with the same number was wearing a pink watch on his right wrist. Other photographs later showed Sergio swopping clothes with his brother in a portable toilet.
Sergio returned to the race in 2010, but his reputation was tarnished again after he tested positive for an unknown substance.
It was an unlucky year for the Comrades Marathon in 1999, with Sergio being only one of three athletes to be disqualified. In the same year, 2nd place runner Victor Zdhanov tested positive for a stimulant, and 6th place runner Rasta Mohloli tested positive for a steroid.
Both were disqualified.
It was another three years before race scandal broke out again – this time when runner Andre van de Vyver was banned for life after he was caught with his own timing chip attached to one shoe, while that of his son, Willem, who did not run, was attached to another.
The pair said they did it to retain their sequential Comrades numbers, 4990 and 4991. They feared Willem would lose his number if he did not run.
The claim was rejected by Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) chairman John van den Aardweg, who said: “We have never heard such an excuse. Race numbers are kept for several years.”
Scandals over the years have forced the CMA to beef up its security measures, and in 2001, the first television referee was introduced.
While watching the race on a TV screen, this referee is in constant contact with all other referees and organisers and reports any suspicious behaviour.