When nobody truly wins

In a small race in Southern Germany, the race winner was disqualified for receiving outside assistance, and the declared winner was not happy either. Lukasz Wojt collapsed a few meters before the finish at the Karlsfeld Triathlon, and event cheerleaders who stood nearby helped him up and purportedly assisted to advance him. Wojt then managed to crawl to the finish and crossed the line 4 seconds ahead of runner-up Markus Hörmann. That is where the story begins.

“I only know that I crawled and rolled to the finish. Six meters before the finish I got terrible cramps that no longer allowed me to stand. It was a very scary feeling I have to say,” said Lukasz Wojt. “As I laid there, the cheerleaders came. I was pretty much delirious, but knew that picking me up made no sense, as I knew I would fall down again. I even said to them to not do it. They then righted me up, and a step later I fell down again. I then decided to crawl alone to the finish.”

Runner-up Markus Hörmann was running towards the finish in the stadium, but before he got there spectators yelled out to him that Wojt was in trouble, and that he might catch him.

“As you come to the finish area, you first run about 100 meters across grass before you enter the stadium. There is a tight corner where you don’t see anything and then you come to the last 100-meter finish straight,“ said Hörmann. “I came from the road onto grass and at that point athletes who came towards me, volunteers and spectators yelled at me. They screamed ‘step on it, you can get him,’ ‘he can’t do it, you can catch him,’ and similar stuff. I took that in and accelerated. As I ran around that tight corner onto the track I saw how Lukasz, who was on the ground, was grabbed by the cheerleaders. I was confused by the situation of him staggering and the cheerleaders holding on to him. Shortly before the finish they let him go and he crawled across the line.”

There was also speculation about further illegal assistance. “That was in the finish area after I had helped out Lukasz. Several folks came to me and told me what happened before the finish line. I personally, however, did not see that,” said Hörmann. “But it made me decide that I should talk to officials.”

The leading male cyclist was Rasmus Leicht, and he was riding right behind Lukasz Wojt to avoid giving the runner a drafting advantage, and he shared his thoughts with slowtwitch.

“About 300 meters before the finish he [Wojt] stopped and fell into my direction. He held on to my bike [that was not moving] and I had my hands full to not fall over myself. He then gathered himself and got up without my help and ran and walked on,” said Leicht. “The scene at the finish line I can’t judge, as I stopped at the beginning of the finish straight.”

The race officials on the other hand did make a judgment, a disqualification for Wojt.

“In cases like this the referee has to make a quick decision. This is similar to soccer, a referee has to make the call as he sees it. That folks argue about it later is also understandable, but when there is no official protest against the decision filed within 30 minutes, the decision needs to be accepted,” said Tobias Heinze, president of the Bavarian Triathlon Federation.

We asked to see the official Karlsfeld Triathlon race report, but that is not a service offered to the media by the Bavarian Triathlon Federation. However, Heinze was willing to read from the unofficial one.

“Markus Hörmann wanted to officially file a complaint about the unofficial competition result and he explained the following reason. The first placed Wojt collapsed about 10 meters before the finish, and was helped back on his feet by the cheerleaders from the race organization. He was then supported and guided by the cheerleaders towards the finish. Shorty before the finish they let go and he then crawled across the finish line,” read Heinze from the unofficial race report.

“The key sentence here is that he was supported for a few meters, and that is outside assistance, and according to race regulations not allowed,” added Heinze.

“The head official at the race told Hörmann that a protest was not necessary because the story told was very clear, and that meant that Wojt had to be disqualified,’ said Heinze. “This [outside assistance] was also confirmed by others in the stadium, including the race announcer who was in the finish area.”

Wojt and many of his fans were upset after the race, and to some degree are still miffed several days after. The anger however is not directed at the referee who made the call, but at Markus Hörmann, who in their view is responsible for the disqualification.

“You don’t run to the officials and complain for such a reason,” said Wojt. “Surely I was helped, but whether I gained or lost time is a separate question, and based on the rules I likely needed to be disqualified. I would have accepted that. But the race official did nothing until Markus H. complained.”

“Sport isn’t like math, where everything is based on logic and rules. In this case, when one person feels really crappy and crawls across the finish, one should not go to the officials and complain,” added Wojt.

On Facebook there has been a lot of armchair quarterbacking and name-calling, mostly directed at Hörmann, and that continued for several days after the race.

“I have never been in such a situation before and it is really hitting me personally very hard. It is the first time dealing with such an unfortunate situation and where so much is interpreted by folks on the outside, “ said Markus Hörmann.

We also attempted to hear from the race organization, but Dieter Asböck speaking for the team said, “As the organizers we offer the opportunity to athletes to compete in a triathlon. The race referees are responsible for the adherence to the rules. Thus you will not get statements from myself and other members of the organizing team or the business office connected to your inquiry.”

Fellow organizing team member Alex Huschtschin had already posted on Facebook the following statement: “There was no protest filed by Markus Hörmann … that was not needed after statements from about 250 spectators. And Wojt could have protested against the disqualification, at that time he was with it again, he though did not do that!!!!! That is a fact, I filled out the official report with the head referee.”

Huschtschin subsequently reached out to us to say that we were not allowed to use his Facebook post for our story, and pointed to his right to privacy and the fact that he isn’t a person of public interest. But his Facebook statement was made in a public discussion and not snatched from his personal page or blog, and clearly there is plenty of public interest.

An interesting side note to this story is that Hörmann (pictured below running during the 2015 Karlsfeld Triathlon) also won that race in 2013 after crossing the line in second place. The rules in Karlsfeld state that athletes can’t clip their shoes into the pedals “unless their feet are in them,” a rule that was put in place because of a dangerous exit and entrance of the transition area. While in the lead, Andres Carnevali jumped off his bike as he reached the T2 dismount line, but left his bike shoes clipped into the pedals. He then crashed in view of officials as he “illegally dismounted,” and was thus disqualified. But Carnevali did not learn about this until he crossed the finish, and Hörmann was declared the winner. Both athletes remained friendly as Carnevali accepted the ruling, and the two even shared a meal post race that day, cooked by their respective girlfriends.

“But it definitely sucks to win the race when you are finishing in second place. Andres was surely the faster athlete that day, and whether he had the shoes on or not made no difference,” said Hörmann.

Image 2 and 3 were courtesy of the 2 athletes, and image 1 is © Norbert Habschied