Richie Cunningham has been competing in high profile triathlons for two decades and is a thorough professional who is a stickler for the rules. On Sunday, he and several other competitors were directed off course on the run and when they discovered the error, they felt they were too far past to double back and make a legal, competitive finish. While they were all liable to be disqualified, they did not wait for a ruling or ask to be given a timing allowance for the distance cut. They all turned in their timing chips and called it a day.
Slowtwitch: What happened to you in Galveston?
Richie Cunningham: I guess around 1.5 miles into the run, there was a small out and back section – which coincided with the bike course where some athletes were heading out. Officials there were saying ‘stay to the right - away from the cyclists.’ So basically we did a little turn and headed to transition. I was behind one of the guys and we stayed on the far right hand side of the course. The first 6 or 7 guys in the front group had the lead bikes to tell them where to go.
ST: Was there any ambiguity about where to go?
Richie: Generally the course was really well marked. It is 3 loops with a lot of twists and turns. It is a cool run course which stays within the park area and it’s fairly spectator friendly.
ST: So what about the situation led you guys astray?
Richie: We were caught on the opposite side of the median strip and could not see the arrows where we were supposed to be. One official was telling us, ‘Go straight.’ I had done the course 4-5 times previously and should have known better. But in the heat of the race and the pace of the first few miles, it gets kind of frantic and unfortunately we went off course.
ST: Did officials inform you that you were off course? And did they tell you that you were disqualified?
Richie: At least WTC is clear about their rules. After about 3 miles of the first lap of the run, and once we realized we went off course, it was pointless to go back to the point where we went off course and continue to race. We would have been 15-20 minutes down. If we did not get back on course it's a DQ.
ST: So you DQ’d yourself?
Richie: I was happy with the rules – and we did not have the dynamics of what happened in at Challenge Dubai this year where a few of the lead bikers were a few kilometer short and were allowed an official finish with a time adjustment. The rules are there to protect other athletes and in the end I am OK with what happened. I’ve had a pretty long career – 20 years of racing – and only twice before have I gone off course and ended my race. It is not a regular occurrence or a thing that happens often.
ST: Did officials at the race say anything to you?
Richie: Not really. Once we went back to where it happened, I noticed the person who directed us the wrong way was there. One of head officials for the run course was also there and asked us what happened. She was kind of baffled because the course is really well marked in general. I don’t know if a volunteer was supposed to be there to direct us. But what can you really say? Nothing can be done. Rules are rules. I guess I did self-DQ – me and Matt Russell and Pedro Gomes and all the other guys. Once we realized what happened, we handed in our GPS Tracker and timing chip and called it a day and focused on getting ready for next week.
ST: Was this the first time you had used GPS trackers?
Richie: They were using the GPS tracker as a test. With GPS trackers on now you can’t really argue. There is a move to use it for all championship races. We had it for this race as test. I guess we will have them in big races from now on. You can’t really hide your make mistakes.
ST: What would you have done if you were at Challenge Dubai and were affected by their decision to allow the men who were led off course on the bike leg to continue?
Richie I thought if I was at the other end of a ruling and was affected by other people cutting the course, I’d be pissed off. I guess it is the responsibility of athletes once they have taken the wrong turn to return to the place on the course where they went off. If you don’t, I believe that you should DQ yourself. That is the sportsmanlike thing to do.
ST: That seems to be the ethic in golf – the vast majority penalize themselves if they violate a rule.
Richie: As far as ethical attitudes, our sport seems to be fairly legit and I think most people would do the right thing.
ST: Should race officials have apologized?
Richie: It is a two way street. We both made a mistake. We just handed in our chip took the bike out of transition and went on home to get ready for next week. It is not worth dwelling upon. I am pissed off, of course. I was running really well, my last few races haven’t gone so well and I was looking forward to having a good run. I felt strong and was looking forward to see if I could run back into a podium or get 4th or 5th or so. But there is no point crying over spilt milk.