LONDON – After crossing the finish line in third place and smashing his personal best, Rob Sloan celebrated and boasted how he’d just completed an “unbelievably tough” marathon.
It turns out things weren’t quite what they seemed.
Sloan, organizers say, had actually dropped out 32 kilometres into the race, hitched a ride on a spectator shuttle bus and emerged from the woods near the finish line to make the podium.
After initially describing claims that he cheated in Sunday’s Kielder Marathon near Newcastle as “laughable,” the 31-year-old former army mechanic admitted his transgression following an investigation by organizers.
“People in cars following the bus saw him get on and off. People saw him run through the bushes — we had him hook, line and sinker,” Dave Roberts, one of the marathon organizers, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
“Rob was distraught at having to come clean.”
Sloan was stripped of his third-place result.
Fellow competitors and bosses of Sloan’s running club, the Sunderland Harriers, criticized the runner for tainting an event labelled by organizers as “Britain’s most beautiful marathon.”
Steven Cairns, who moved from fourth to third following Sloan’s disqualification, accused his rival of “stealing my glory.”
“I was third the whole way but somehow I crossed the line and was given fourth!” Cairns said on his Facebook page. “I started to doubt myself as he was adamant he had gone past me. I could understand him taking the goody bag and the T-shirt but to do the press interview claiming he was third…”
A day after winning a 10-kilometre race at the same location, Sloan ran out of stamina with 9.6 kilometres remaining in the marathon. Then came the bus ride and shortcut through the woods to the finish line.
Sloan’s time was given as two hours 51 minutes — 21 minutes faster than his previous best in the race.
“I’m convinced it was not premeditated,” Roberts said. “But he felt rough, pulled out and flagged down a bus. It’s as bad as drug-taking in my book because it’s attempting to improve your performance by cheating. I’ve never known anything like it.”
Sloan will go before a district committee this month as part of an inquiry into his actions, and faces the prospect of being banned from future marathons.
“We are pleased this matter has been cleared up,” said event director Steve Cram, a former world record holder and world champion in the 1,500 metres. “Mr. Sloan made a mistake and has apologized to us for the confusion it has caused.”
Cram will travel to the Scottish city of Edinburgh, where Cairns lives, next week to give him his third-place medal.
One of the most famous cases of cheating in a marathon came at the Boston Marathon in 1980, where Rosie Ruiz was the first woman to cross the finish line but was disqualified when officials discovered she jumped into the race about 1.5 kilometres from the end.