A top ultramarathon runner in the U.K. has been slapped with a yearlong ban after she admitted to hitching a ride in a car during a 50-mile race from Manchester to Liverpool, in which she ended up placing third.
Joasia Zakrzewski, 47, wrote in a letter to an independent disciplinary panel for U.K. Athletics that she “did travel in a car and then later completed the run, crossing the finish line and inappropriately receiving a medal and trophy, which I did not return immediately as I should have done.”
Zakrzewski is a renowned ultra runner who set a world record back in February for running 255.668 miles in 48 hours. She has also served as a team manager for Great Britain during international sporting events.
In its decision on Zakrzewski’s case, the disciplinary panel wrote that she is an “experienced athlete, competing successfully at the highest level,” and, as such, had a “responsibility to uphold the rules.”
“(T)his made it even more serious that she breached them,” the panel wrote.
Zakrzewski has been banned from U.K. Athletics events, and from representing Great Britain in international competitions, for 12 months. She has also been banned from coaching, officiating and managing athletes during this period.
Zakrzewski’s cheating was discovered in April, shortly after the GB Ultras Manchester to Liverpool race where she inappropriately claimed third place.
It was discovered that the runner had travelled about 2.5 miles of the 50-mile race in a car after she said she became lost and injured halfway through the course.
Zakrzewski apologized for her actions and told BBC Scotland that she started to limp while running the race, so she accepted a ride in her friend’s car to the next checkpoint to tell marshals she was pulling out of the competition.
“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 told the outlet. “I agreed to carry on in a non-competitive way.”
As for why Zakrzewski accepted the third-place trophy for the race instead of bowing out, she blamed jet lag and fatigue.
Zakrzewski, who had arrived from Australia the night before the race, said she “made a massive error accepting the trophy and should have handed it back.”
“I was tired and jetlagged and felt sick,” she said, adding that she was “not thinking clearly.”
However, in the disciplinary panel’s decision, authorities note that marshals denied knowing of Zakrzewski’s car trip. They told the panel that Zakrzewski only said she was injured and talked about withdrawing, but failed to mention riding in a car.
Zakrzewski was “given an opportunity to cross-examine the marshals and contest their evidence, but chose not to do so,” the decision reads.
In the aftermath of the race, Zakrzewski made no attempt to return her third-place trophy and even posted about it on social media.
“Even if she was suffering from brain fog on the day of the race, she had a week following the race to realise her actions and return the trophy, which she did not do,” the decision states.
The panel found that Zakrzewski attempted to conceal her cheating and breached the Code of Conduct for Senior Athletes. At the time her infraction came to light, Zakrzewski told BBC Scotland that she “would never purposefully cheat.”
She also told the disciplinary panel that she didn’t intend to cheat or conceal her actions.
“(T)his was not a target race, but I don’t want to make excuses,” Zakrzewski told BBC Scotland.
She also apologized to the real third-place winner Mel Sykes.
“I’m an idiot and want to apologize to Mel. It wasn’t malicious, it was miscommunication,” she said. “Mel didn’t get the glory at the finish and I’m really sorry she didn’t get that.”
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