Durban - KZN Athletics, the sporting code’s provincial controlling body, has launched an investigation into more than 20 Comrades Marathon runners who missed timing mats spread across the 89km route.
Two of the runners also ran suspiciously faster times in different sections of the race.
It was also revealed that 17 runners accused of cheating last year had been granted permission to run in this year’s Comrades, albeit under protest and only because the disciplinaries had taken so long.
Only four of those had completed the run, KZN Athletics said.
This year’s probe began on Wednesday with race officials poring over data supplied by the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) showing runners’ “negative splits” - faster times after the halfway mark - as well as those who had missed timing mats.
KZN Athletics technical delegate for the race, Anand Naicker, said runners who had missed timing mats would be requested to provide explanations. “Due process will follow thereafter.”
The probe will run alongside an inquiry into why four-time Comrades Marathon winner, Alan Robb, was not placed in the Grand Masters (over 60) category.
Naicker said data supplied to the athletics association by the CMA revealed that there were three other Grand Master athletes ahead of Robb.
“This matter is receiving attention as well. It would be premature to discuss or determine the outcome. Verification processes can take some time and all efforts are being made together with CMA to ensure a speedy conclusion in this matter,” he said.
Robb said on Wednesday he had still not heard anything from race officials.
Naicker said the investigation into athletes missing mats and some running negative split times was being done across the various categories.
“We have been given the splits of more than 20 runners who missed mats on that day and we’re currently looking into that with the possibility of taking disciplinary action against them,” he said.
“Some people may have missed a mat innocently and they will be given a fair chance to explain why they missed a particular mat. There are some people who have missed more than one mat. We can’t just disqualify people because there may be a reasonable explanation as to why they missed a particular mat. We are undergoing that process right now.”
Naicker said KZN Athletics would be asking the CMA to supply it with “action photos” of athletes who missed the mats.
The photos would either come from pictures taken along the route by CMA photographers or from video footage on the CMA website.
“There have been times that a person has passed a mat but it was not recorded and those people have shown us pictures of themselves going past those mats. In the past that has been sufficient proof,” he said.
Naicker said letters would be sent next week to the athletes who missed mats.
“We will basically be asking them to provide us with an explanation as to why. We can’t say right now how long this will take as we will follow due process.”
Last year, Mark Dowdeswell, a mathematical statistics lecturer at Wits University, uncovered possible cheating after he found athletes had run negative splits - faster times after the halfway mark.
From data available on the Comrades website, he calculated the times of all the runners in last year’s race at the halfway mark and their subsequent times from there to the finish, and did a comparison.
He discovered that at least 20 athletes had run suspiciously faster times after halfway after missing timing mats spread across the route.
Last year KZN athletics flagged 31 Comrades Marathon runners for missing mats and dodgy split times.
Sello Mokoena, president of KZN Athletics, said a disciplinary process into those 31 athletes began in March and was still continuing.
“After the initial internal investigation, about five of the 31 were cleared after it was discovered that they neither cheated nor had intention to cheat,” Mokoena said.
He said 26 athletes were sent letters of notice and were asked to make formal presentations.
“Of the 26, nine made compelling cases with full evidence and were cleared.”
However, because of the delays in the process, compounded by the fact that entries for this year’s Comrades had already been taken, the remaining 17 were allowed to register and start the race under protest, Mokoena said.
“Of the 17 flagged runners only four have official results and finish times; the rest have incomplete results and appear to have bailed out...”
Their hearings would be concluded by month-end.