An ultramarathon runner was disqualified from a 50-mile race earlier this month in England for using a car that enabled her to finish in third place.
Joasia Zakrzewski, 47, said her actions were “not malicious” and the incident was caused by miscommunication, the BBC reported on Wednesday. She added that she made a “massive error” by accepting the third-place trophy, according to the news organization.
Zakrzewski was competing in the GB Ultras Manchester to Liverpool 50-mile race on April 7, The Guardian reported. She finished third in the race but traveled 2.5 miles in a vehicle, USA Today reported. Race officials determined by mapping data that Zakrzewski covered a mile in the race in 1 minute, 40 seconds.
Mel Skyes was awarded third place, the newspaper reported.
“The issue has been investigated and having reviewed the data from our race tracking system, GPX data, statements provided from our event team, other competitors and from the participant herself, we can confirm that a runner has now been disqualified from the event having taken vehicle transport during part of the route,” GB Ultras race director Wayne Drinkwater told the BBC.
The runner told the news organization that she entered the vehicle because she had been limping and wanted to tell marshals that she was withdrawing from the race.
“When I got to the checkpoint I told them I was pulling out and that I had been in the car, and they said ‘You will hate yourself if you stop,’” Zakrzewski said. “I agreed to carry on in a non-competitive way. I made sure I didn’t overtake the runner in front when I saw her as I didn’t want to interfere with her race.”
When Zakrzewski crossed the line she was given a medal and a third-place wooden trophy and posed for photographs, the BBC reported.
“I was tired and jetlagged and felt sick,” said Zakrzewski, who added that she had flown in from Australia the night before the race. “I hold my hands up, I should have handed them back and not had pictures done but I was feeling unwell and spaced out and not thinking clearly.”
“After the event, there was no attempt by Joasia to make us aware of what had happened and to give us an opportunity to correct the results or return the third-place trophy during the course of the subsequent seven days,” Drinkwater told the BBC. “At the finish location, Joasia crossed the finish line timing mat, received her finisher medal and was presented with her trophy. At no point at the finish were the event team informed by Joasia that she was ‘not running the race competitively.’”
Zakrzewski won the 48-hour Taipei Ultramarathon in Taiwan in February, setting a world record across 255 miles, the BBC reported. She won a silver medal in 2011 and bronze in 2014 and 2015 while competing for the United Kingdom in the IAU World 100-kilometer Championships, according to the news outlet.
Scottish Athletics chairman David Ovens said he was disappointed and hoped that Zakrzewski can learn from her mistake, USA Today reported.
“I hope she can put this behind her and that there is an innocent explanation, and she can resume her successful career,” Ovens said.
The incident brought back memories of Rosie Ruiz, who won the 1980 Boston Marathon after joining the race a mile from the finish, the Times reported.
At the 1904 Games in St. Louis, Fred Lorz of the United States jumped in a car for more than 10 miles of the marathon race, then arrived at the finish as the crowd cheered, according to Smithsonian Magazine. He was nearly given a gold medal before he was exposed as a fraud. He later claimed he had entered the car as “a joke,” the magazine reported.
Zakrzewski’s reputation is now similarly damaged.
“I’m an idiot and want to apologize to Mel. It wasn’t malicious, it was miscommunication,” Zakrzewski told the BBC. “I would never purposefully cheat and this was not a target race, but I don’t want to make excuses.
“Mel didn’t get the glory at the finish and I’m really sorry she didn’t get that.”