Impartial Marshalling

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had the eye-opening experience of both racing and marshalling major triathlon races.

The first of the events – Laguna Phuket Triathlon – I raced. Although I was aware of draft marshals out on the bike course, I was also aware that for a lot of the course, I was flying solo, always respecting the 7m thai drafting rule throughout. This was hardly surprising given the single loop bike course was 55km long, and that over 600 athletes were participating.

On finishing the race, I heard a lot of athletes mentioning that they had seen some drafting on the course – suffice to say I was disappointed in my fellow competitors. Personally, I know that if I ever partook in such cheating, I would never be able to forgive myself. It 100% goes against my race ethics, but above that, why I do triathlon: to push myself and to test myself. Yes, comparing my performance to others’ matters, and my competitive nature means I inevitably want to rank as highly as possible, but I would never deceive others or myself by cheating. In fact I had never even considered it – forgive my naivety.

Race marshalling the following week at Challenge Laguna Phuket was therefore a bit of a shock. It turns out that people not only knowingly cheat by drafting and then lie that they were ‘unaware’ or ‘taking over’, but the lack of respect certain participants had for race officials was appalling. Of course, controversy ensued as numerous marshals including myself were also local triathletes and accused of favouritism.

Personally whether or not I am friends with an athlete, would not influence my decision if someone was blatantly drafting: instant penalty. It is essential to remain detached from the situation if you have agreed to officially represent the race organisers and the rule book.

But I also learnt that as an athlete, respect the marshals. One athlete shouted at me simply for blowing a whistle at someone as a warning – I hate to imagine what would have happened if I had penalised him, although that would not have stopped me had he persisted to behave inappropriately.

Race marshals and volunteers are imperative to the smooth running of an event. Respect them – they’ve given their time and it’s a lot harder to do than you realise, especially when it’s +40 C. A little smile or thumbs up goes a long way.

Unfortunately for the head race marshall, he did have to red card an athlete for riding on someone’s wheel for 0.5km. After his request to the athlete to pull over was ignored, the athlete was informed he was DQ’ed. On returning to transition after completing the bike course, despite being DQ’ed and discovering his shoes were not at his bike, he then proceeded to report to the penalty box. To be clear: if penalised for drafting or blocking on the bike (preventing someone from passing), you report to the penalty box  immediately after finishing the bike, before getting your running stuff on, as stated in both the race briefing and and rule book.

So what ensued was a lot of shouting and swearing at the head race marshal and race director with swearing, physical contact, and yes, a video of it all. Thank you social media.

But what will the actual repercussions of this episode be? Who knows…hopefully the athlete will be made an example of, because behaviour like this truly juxtaposes the ethics and essence of the sport: to test yourself, push past your limits, whilst respecting the work and effort of your competitors and those organising the event.

So don’t cheat yourself. It’ll backfire one day. Whether you get caught or not. Triathlon is a sport that requires a great deal of mental toughness to push past the pain, even when you know you got more to suffer. Don’t psychologically weaken yourself  by cheating yourself – someone might not be there to draft off next time and you might not be able to do it without them…

“I would prefer even to fail with honour than to win by cheating” – Sophocles

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Some of the race marshals before the start (Photo: Justin White)

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