Running Barefoot in Berlin Marathon?

By Jörg Wenig
© Betty Shepherd
© Betty Shepherd

Since the origin of the Marathon in the late 1800’s, there have always been a small number of “competitors” who have attempted to tarnish the sanctity of the world’s greatest sport by gaining status or even prizes by cheating. Often many of these unscrupulous individuals would go undetected in their efforts. That’s unless they took their ruse to far or were spied taking a short cut.

In the 1984 Berlin Marathon, there was a 16 year-old boy who reached the finish just minutes behind the winner. People had deduced that he had either used a cycle of some sort or hitched a ride on the underground train to circumnavigate the route and the other competitors.

You would think in this day and age efforts such as the 16 year-old boy’s would desist. With the introduction of the micro-chip in the mid-90’s, cheating has become almost impossible. At all the big city marathons, runners are required to now wear a chip on their laces. At the Berlin Marathon, the individual chip time is measured every five-kilometers.

But despite the advance detection systems that are now in place, unsavory runners continue to attempt to cheat their way to the finish line. At the real,- Berlin Marathon, 30,709 runners crossed the finish line. At the conclusion of the event, race officials announced that 127 competitors were disqualified.

In an audit of runners’ split times, it was discovered that at some point after the 5-K mark these 127 cheaters had left the course at some juncture only to return prior to the finish line. Amazingly, they all presented themselves at the end of the race in order to collect their medals – unbelievable!

When they were questioned on their absence on certain sections of the race, their excuses were as creative as the individual course they had traveled on this day. One runner stated that he was forced to run barefoot for the first 35-K for health reasons. It was just the last 7-K he put on his sneakers.

Officials of course removed their names and times from the record book in respect to the competitors who had completed the race from start to finish.