In what was a rather shameful end to an otherwise glorious event, two Indian women athletes were disqualified on grounds that tantamount to cheating at the Mumbai Marathon on Sunday.
At the 24.2 km mark (near the Bandra toll naka) Vaheeda Khan and Vidya Mehta, ostensibly took the wrong route thereby not completing the entire course.
The duo's recourse helped them finish the race as the top two Indians, and with timings hitherto unheard of as regards an Indian athlete. While, Vaheeda clocked 2.45.48 secs, Vidya finished just four seconds behind (2.45.52).
However, with Shastri Devi, the winner in the category last year crying foul, the officials were forced to investigate the matter.
"We can very well see during the turning who is ahead of us and who is behind us and we couldn't believe these two had finished ahead of us," said Devi, adamant regarding not accepting the initial result.
Another competing athlete, on conditions of anonymity revealed, that one took the help of a motorcyclist (hitching a ride for part of the course) while the other took the route meant for the participants in the half marathon.
The short cuts helped the two athletes complete significant distance in quick time thereby improving their overall time considerable. However, the fact that the athlete who initially finished third (Jyoti Gawate) clocked a modest 3:05:30 meant the officials as well the fellow athletes weren't exactly convinced.
The results weren't announced for a considerable period of time and investigation proved the duo had erred. Thereafter, the results of the two athletes involved were annulled.
"Athletes number 133 (Vaheeda) and 136 (Vidya) stand disqualified," announced Dave Cundy, the jury appointed following the protest.
"We have both manual (bib numbers noted by officials) and electronic (chip) checks and both have pointed out that the duo didn't run the full distance," explained Cundy, adding that the athletes didn't make an official protest against the disqualification even if they had the option to do so.
Hugh Jones, the race director, was amazed at the timings recorded by the duo.
"It was surprising I must admit," he admitted, adding, "I mean I had expected the best Indian woman to time around 2.56.
"Therefore, their timing (2.45) was unbelievable."
Sunita Godara, a former Asian champion who is actively involved with the marathon, albeit tried to do some damage control.
"I won't say the two athletes in question cheated but such things sometimes happen because of excitement," she reasoned, before trying to back her point with an explanation.
"These two are seasoned athletes," she explained, adding, "If you look at their performances in last year's race, you will see they finished fourth and fifth respectively.
"And they have already apologized for their act." Godara, however, agreed that disqualification was the right decision.
"Disqualification is the norm in such cases," she said. Since the performances weren't of very high standards as also the fact that the Athletics Federation of India doesn't recognize the event, the disqualification is the maximum punishment that the duo will receive.
"It is not up to me to make recommendation for further action to be taken," explained Cundy, adding, "However, if the concerned authorities or the federation deem fit, they can impose sanctions on such athletes."
Jones confirmed the same.
"Such cases have been detected before among various such competitions across the world and it is a shame that it had to happen here," he concluded.
For the record, the final results - following the disqualification of the duo, witnessed Gawate emerging as the best Indian athlete, Devi finishing second (in 3:08:15) and M Sudha settling for third place (in 3:10:52).