World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), owners of the Ironman, announced a modification of its posture toward USA Triathlon rule 3.4(d), Unauthorized Assistance. This follows an incident at its recent Miami 70.3 race.
The incident involved a pro man and woman. The woman was Austrian Lisa Hutthaler, recently back from a doping violation for EPO that cost her a 2-year ban. (Hutthaler was also convicted of attempting to bribe an anti-doping official, and was sentenced to 3 months probation.)
Another pro in the race, male competor Andy Fuchs, also from Austria, emerged from the water at Miami 70.3 in a swim time about equal to that of Hutthaler's. However, the male pros left 2 minutes ahead of the women.
Female pros, which included Jodie Swallow, witnessed who they identified as Fuchs in their vicinity, claiming that he interfered with them during the race. However, when Hutthaler caught up to Fuchs, the two rode off together. Chip mat times confirm that they were in immediate proximity, as does Brightroom photo data, which appears to show that Fuchs and Hutthaler were photographed in sequence or near-sequence. Details are reported in an earlier story.
Near the end of the bike leg Fuchs rode ahead, arriving with a 30-second lead on Hutthaler. He retired from the race following the bike leg.
No foul was called on either competitor, because no marshal saw conduct that would have triggered a penalty according to position fouls. The question has come up, however—as it has in the past, when two racers socially connected and who are not in each others' respective categories are nevertheless racing in immediate proximity—what constitutes Unauthorized Assistance?
The editorial view here, on Slowtwitch, is and has been that Unauthorized Assistance is deemed to have been given when one athlete abandons or debases his or her race ambitions in order to render service to another athlete. No position foul need be violated for such behavior to constitute a violation.
WTC has not historically called these violations, nor has it seemed that interested in the concept. Like Montana, where it is illegal to have sheep in the cab of a truck without a chaperone, WTC seems to have treated this brand of unauthorized assistance this as a rule it could pretend did not exist. At least, until now.
Today Ironman acknowledged in a statement to Slowtwitch that it has not traditionally called such behavior Unauthorized Assistance, but that it will henceforth. The statement, sent by the Jim Riccitello, head of WTC's officials program, reads in full:
"Historically, Unauthorized Assistance has not been called in situations where athletes race together - assuming they are not violating the drafting rules. Although the language of the rule can apply, there are several reasons why it has not been used.
- In most instances, it is difficult to prove when one athlete clearly subordinates his race ambitions to aid another race participant.
- What constitutes aid or pacing? Is proximity, within sight but outside the legal draft zone, an indicator of pacing?
- If so, does WTC really want to prevent friends or husbands and wives from competing in an Ironman together as long as they're not violating the position rules?
- Policing every husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, boyfriend/boyfriend, girlfriend/girlfriend, team mates, brothers, sisters, who participate together would be a nightmare.
In most cases, the desire for athletes to avoid even the appearance of impropriety – and a little common sense - has been enough to prevent this from becoming a big issue. But the Hutthaler-Fuchs situation, as well as other recent similar situations, has caused WTC to re-evaluate enforcement of the Unauthorized Assistance rule. We believe the language of the rule can be applied in situations where one athlete clearly subordinates his or her race to aid another athlete, but that it should not be applied in every situation. Deciding when it should be applied, and proving it, is the challenge – only the pros – pros and age-groupers who are attempting to qualify for Hawaii? At any rate, pro/elite husband and wife, athlete and coach, boyfriend and girlfriend combos will be the obvious target for WTC with regard to Unauthorized Assistance. In the pro ranks, there is no reason why a male pro should be anywhere near his spouse, girlfriend or female client. The male athlete should distance himself from his spouse, friend, client, in order to avoid an Unauthorized Assistance penalty.
This information has relayed to Hutthaler and Fuchs and will be communicated to all Ironman Pro Members in the near future once WTC's policy is formulated."
Hutthaler has retained an attorney in Austria, and a cease and desist letter has been sent to at least one of the accusers - "claimed that my client has purposely broken the relevant rules, through orchestrated conduct and thus are guilty of defaming my client publically... My client has instructed me to undertake legal action against you, should you not revoke your allegations."
WTC's statement above echoes the sentiments expressed by USA Triathlon's longtime Officials Committee Chair Charlie Crawford, that such behavior is indeed in violation of USA Triathlon's rules of competition, specifically, 3.4. (d):
d. Unauthorized Assistance. No participant shall accept from any person (other than a race official) physical assistance in any form, including food, drink, equipment, support, pacing, a replacement bicycle or bicycle parts, unless an express exception has been granted and approved, in writing, by USA Triathlon. The receipt of information regarding the progress, split times, or location of other competitors on the race course shall not be considered the acceptance of unauthorized assistance. Any violation of this Section shall result in a variable time penalty.
The statement today vindicates to some degree the allegations made by Swallow, et al, concerning the behavior by Fuchs and Hutthaler, and would seem to undercut her attempt to cast herself as the injured party.
What has not yet been clarified is the nature of the penalty. Is this brand of Unauthorized Assistance a variable time penalty just like one occasion of a position foul such as drafting? Or, is such assistance, if rendered over the entire or significant duration of, say, a 112-mile bike leg evidence of multiple infractions of the rule, that would lead to greater penalties and a DQ? Riccitello's statement presages a fuller fleshing out of the policy and the nature of the penalties to be imposed, when the policy is released in final form.