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Tom Fox: At Ironman Canada, her success just didn’t add up

Sometimes things just don’t add up.

That was one of the themes from a New York Times article about a triathlete who was disqualified from the most recent Ironman Canada, after having been awarded first place.

Julie Miller won the top spot in the 40-44 year old age group. Yet questions were immediately raised by the four women who were all bumped down a place on the podium when Miller “seemed to have materialized out of nowhere and somehow won the race.”

In the crazed world of triathlons, there is not much worse than accusing someone of not having completed the entire course. This is not the situation of using performance enhancing drugs ala Lance Armstrong. This is an accusation of pulling a Rosie Ruiz; only running/swimming/biking for a limited portion of the course and then claiming you completed the event. As one triathlete was quoted in the article, “cutting the course is…almost incomprehensible.”

Yet what struck me about Miller’s case was how the cheating was determined. It was the event participants themselves who gathered the forensic evidence of Miller’s cheating. This evidence included official race photographs, timing data, photos from spectators along the course of the race, interviews from race participants, volunteer and spectators along the racecourse of the event.

Miller, who had rather conveniently lost her timing chip which would have answered the issue most definitively, has never presented any evidence to support her claim of a first place finish. This is in the face of being requested to do so by the race organizers. Indeed she could not even tell the women she allegedly bested where she had passed them.

For the ethics and compliance professional this story certainly resonates. An actor who has a very high reward — not only winning a triathlon but also gaining admittance to the most prestigious triathlon on the planet, the Ironman world championships in Kona, Hawaii.

Where there is high reward –in sports, business or anywhere else — there is a possibility that someone will bend or break the rules to achieve that high goal. That is one of the reasons a timing chip is given to each participant.

The lesson is goes beyond trust but verify. If you have a high reward, you must manage the attendant risk accordingly.


Thomas Fox, pictured above, is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog and a Compliance Week columnist. He’s the founder of the Houston-based boutique law firm A popular speaker on compliance and risk-management topics, Fox is also the creator and writer of the widely followed FCPA Compliance Report. His book Lessons Learned on Compliance and Ethics topped Amazon’s bestseller list for international law. He can be contacted here.

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1 Comment

  1. Or, as we used to say in the old language of morals and proverbs – 'Every man has his price'.

    What puzzles me abut this story is why the cheating runner was given the winning place at the end of the race, having 'lost' the crucial timing chip… Surely that alone should have led to automatic no-discretion-no-exceptions disqualification?

    How often do we see organisations get into trouble needlessly, when they promulgate a policy and then fail to enforce it consistently, undermining both the policy and the leadership.

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