Furore over rewards to non-finishers of Standard Chartered Marathon

T-shirts, medals for those who failed to complete marathon spark dismay

Participants at the flag-off point of the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore in Orchard Road on Dec 7, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Participants at the flag-off point of the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore in Orchard Road on Dec 7, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

It was a gesture meant to show appreciation for the runners. But the decision to award finishers' T-shirts and medals to participants of Sunday's Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (SCMS) despite them not fully completing their race has instead been surrounded by controversy.

Many runners, especially on social media, are questioning whether such an action devalues the honour associated with finishing one of the world's most physically demanding sporting endeavours.

Avid runner Soh Yi Da, who ran the full marathon on Sunday, is among those who felt the organiser was not being fair to those who had completed the race.

"The whole point of the marathon is the sense of satisfaction and achievement," said the 25-year-old manager.

"You put in the effort, endured the pain and completed it, and the T-shirt is the hallmark of that. But that has now lost its worth."

Dr Claus Schwab, 45, a pacer in Sunday's race, also agreed that the organiser's decision devalues the marathon.

"You should only get the T-shirt and medal if you finished," said the German. "Now, people are going to think: 'Why should I run the full distance at all?'"

The unconventional move came to light after photographer Christopher Koh posted on his blog photos and names of runners whom he thought had cheated at the race by taking a short cut.

The post quickly went viral, prompting race organiser Spectrum Worldwide to issue a statement on the marathon's website on Tuesday night.

The organiser clarified that the "cheaters" were in fact the slower runners who had been diverted to a shorter route. Runners who had not crossed the marathon's 13km mark at 7.30am - 21/2 hours after flag-off time - were told to run a shorter route.

The diversion cut out 17km of the race for these runners, but they were still entitled to the T-shirt and medal. They, however, did not receive a certificate of completion and their race times were not recorded.

Yesterday, Spectrum Worldwide said the medals were given even to people who did not complete the race " in the spirit of appreciating the runners' participation, regardless of category".

"In general, we expect that participants who have signed up intend to finish their race, thus even if they have been diverted for safety reasons, we are still appreciative of their efforts and attempts," said the spokesman.

Those who ran the shorter route said they were not informed beforehand about the cut-off time at the checkpoints. They were also told to accept the medal and T-shirt.

Among them was Ms Shannon Heo, 36, who initially declined them.

"I felt insulted that they were giving me something I did not deserve," she said. "But the volunteers said they were obliged to give it to me, and that I had to take it."

Dr Ben Tan, 47, who has taken part in more than 20 marathons, said the organisers could have been sympathising with the diverted runners when giving them the T-shirts and medals.

"But those are not the right compensations, because they are meant for the finishers," he said. "You cannot be fair to one group of runners at the expense of another group."

Others who had taken part in races overseas said the SCMS could have been better planned.

Avid marathoner Tay Tze Siong, 47, cited his experience at the Osaka Marathon in 2012.

"There were huge signs at each checkpoint telling runners the cut-off time. It was also stated clearly in the race booklet," he said.

He added that the usual practice for many marathons overseas is for those unable to meet the cut-off times to be bused to the finish line. Continuing the race is not an option.

Put off by this incident, some runners are considering not taking part in future events.

"I won't be joining the marathon any more. It is a no-quality race," said Jeremy Huang, 31. "We now know that when someone wears that T-shirt, they could be a real finisher or a diverted finisher," he added.


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