Why Train When You Can Cheat?

Ever since I did Ironman Korea and saw all these swimmers cheating by pulling themselves along the ropes marking the edge of the course, I’ve thought a lot about the issue of honesty in races. I love this photo below which shows someone going into the water with swim fins! It is a good question … why train when you can cheat?


Triathlon is an individual sport: each athlete is competing against the course and the clock for the best time. As such, athletes are not allowed to receive assistance from anyone else inside or outside the race, with the exception of race-sanctioned aid volunteers who distribute food and water on the course.

The most common ways of cheating in any triathlon to my mind are: (i) cutting the corners in the swim to shorten the distance travelled; and, (ii) drafting on the bike. 

Cutting corners can happen sometimes en-masse. You are following the person in front and don’t see the buoy. This is an honest mistake, which sometimes can be amplified. One fellow wrote after IM Florida: “… I, like the 1000 or so people around me, cut off the first buoy of the second loop of the swim, saving probably 100+ meters. I pulled wider than most everyone around me, but I didn’t veer so far wide of the rest of the field just to “do the right thing.” I have a few guilt pangs.”

ironman_bikeDrafting is a completely different story. Drafting consists of following closely behind someone else in the race. This reduces your effort. Drafting *is* permitted when swimming, but I find that to be quite theoretical: I never find anyone swimming at my pace. But, except at the Olympics (or other draft legal races), it is not permitted on the bike.

The rules are very simple: there is a 7 x 2 metre ‘box’ around the cyclist ahead of you.  This translates into 3 bike lengths. During the race you are to stay out of this box unless passing. When passing, you have 15 seconds to pass the cyclist in front of you. Once your front wheel is past his, it is his responsibility to back off the 3 bike lengths. There is a great explanation of this here.

During my last race of 2008, the Savageman 70.3, I had this fellow drafting me. After a couple of miles I turned around bike-1-tm and asked him not to politely to quit sucking my air. He got the message. In theory there are marshals on the course who should spot this and give give time penalties, but they are few and far between. You can also hear them approaching on their motorcycle and back off to avoid the penalty.

A very famous race for drafting is Ironman Florida. It has a relatively flat course. It was so bad in 2008 that one honest triathlete did a posting on Slowtwitch.com “To anyone who rode in the Peletons at IM Florida“. His simple message? “YOU SUCK!!!!”.  From the heated discussion which followed it appears that the marshals did give quite a few time penalties, but it is unfortunate that so many people cheated.

In the end, it comes down to personal integrity and honor. I will never understand how those swimmers in Korea could live with themselves for cheating, nor how people who have trained for so many hours for an Ironman could accept drafting. We should think of the examples of others who have made great sacrifices to be honest. I love the story below about golfer Greg Chalmers, who for his integrity disqualified himself from a golf match which cost him $90,000.

  Greg Chalmers, a 27-year-old Australian pro, was playing in the Kemper Open in Potomac. On the first day of the tournament, Chalmers hit a bad shot. Another player’s caddy glanced over to see what golf club Chalmers had used. Chalmers was angry about his bad shot and when he saw the caddy’s glance, he snapped: “I hit a 6-iron. Just get away from me.”

Nothing too different there. Lots of athletes get mad when they do something wrong. But there is a rule in pro golf that you can’t give advice to another player or another player’s caddy. Chalmers broke the rule when he said that he had hit a 6-iron. And when you break the rule you are supposed to give yourself a two-stroke penalty.

Chalmers didn’t realize he broke the rule. So he didn’t add two strokes to his score. He reported his score as 71 when it should have been 73.

Chalmers realized his mistake later. He was in the locker room during a rain delay when he heard about an incident just like his in another tournament. That player had taken the penalty.

So Chalmers turned himself in. He was disqualified and lost more than $90,000 in prize money.

So let’s not cheat. Just put in the extra hours training and then do an honest race.

Postscript: After I wrote this initial entry there was a debate on drafting after Ironman Arizona. One fellow set up a video camera and recorded the pack. Check it out here. EverymanTri has even started a blog page called Cheaters to lodge our complaints at. Will it help? Probably not. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.


4 responses to “Why Train When You Can Cheat?

  1. Michael Geldiashvili

    Really interesting! I didn’t know that you could cheat or people cheated in a sport like Triathlon. Besides, why would anyone that has a brain want to cheat? It makes everything so uninteresting and not fun!

    There’s a famous saying by Sophocles: “I would prefer even to fail with honor than to win by cheating.” So let’s not cheat because there’s no point in it!

  2. I know this is an old article, but after being drafted continuously last year I got really annoyed. As the same 300 people show up to all the races around here, I started looking at bike/run splits and saw that there are a few people that are running 2:50 km’s on courses with multiple laps, when they run 5:00 km’s on courses with a single loop. There must be some real slingshot action happening around those multiple lap corners.

    • Yes, it’s really annoying to have people sucking your wheel in a race. Only once have I ever had someone called for it – during IM South Africa – where the referees were overzealous in other areas (DQ’d a fellow during the run for tossing a banana peel outside of the feed zone). It’s an enigma to me because in the end, most of us are not aiming for a win but only a PB – which drafting makes meaningless.

  3. The bottom line is honesty and integrity unfortunately Some of our fellow triathletes don’t have The slightless clue what that means.
    What We started doing here in México after Ironman Cozumel We had enough so what We proposed Was to use The social networks (FB, twittee etc) to our advantage and expose The cheaters, probably they won’t care for this públic embarrasement at first but once everyone around them know The TRUTH about there times and results probably start behaving and competí nh honestly!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s