Cleveland Marathon Winner Faces Possible Disqualification


Daniel Mesfun was the first Marathoner to cross the finish line of Sunday’s Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon. He finished in 2:16:32.01. The 2nd place finisher was Philemon Terer, who finished in a time of 2:16:54.71. No one is doubting that Mesfun ran the full marathon faster than all other competitors. However, the result is in doubt. Mesfun  ran with an additional shirt covering his bib, and took off the shirt with 200 yards remaining in the race.  It was reported on that race officials “will consult on a rules interpretation from USA Track and Field (USATF).

USATF Rules 143 and 145


A Technicality?

One report referred to the rule as a ‘technicality’, a minor rule. What is not clear, and what we will likely never know is if the intent of Mesfun was to deceive. Linked is analysis from CBS 19 Cleveland.


We can argue whether Terer should have known that Mesfun was a competitor. Some on social media are arguing that he should have known that Mesfun was not a half marathoner because of the speed at which he was running was at a much faster pace than a 2:16:00 half marathoner would be running. The other side of this is that he could have been a bandit, hopping in for a few miles. Without the bib, Terer could have reasonably been left with some doubt.

The rule is presumably in place so that runners are clear about who they are competing with. Mesfun did not run with a visible bib for over 26 miles. Therefore, according to the rule he could be disqualified. Among elite competitors, or anyone vying for an award, this rule is not ‘minor’ and a violation isn’t a ‘technicality’. 

Race officials may have some culpability here. There would have been ample opportunity , at the elite start or on the course to communicate with Mesfun regarding his bib. If they did notify him that his bib needed to be visible and he refused to remove the outer shirt, then the decision to disqualify would have been a simple one. If he complied with the order, there would be no issue.

Mesfun says he had worn the outer shirt to warm up in the early morning rain after experiencing cramps in his midsection. If the shirt was effective, then he did gain a benefit not afforded to the other runners. At the very least, he would potentially lost some time while transferring the bib to his shorts or outer shirt.

Mesfun says he had wore the outer shirt to warm up in the early morning rain after experiencing cramps in his midsection. Who is to say whether that led to him gaining an extra thirty seconds or so?

It is clear that Mesfun violated the rule as written. It would be difficult to believe that he wasn’t aware of the rule. It does not matter if his intent was to deceive. By not having his bib visible, it led to the possibility of confusion among the other competitors. Following the rules would have prevented any possibility of confusion. For this reason,  I am of the opinion that Mesfun should be disqualified. In this case, I think the benefit of the doubt should go to the competitors that followed the rules.


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  1. The runners at this elite of a level KNOW what the rules are and what is expected. Period. If they are an elite, this isn’t their first race with the USATF rules or their first race in inclement weather. If I recall, even Boston, with it’s horrible weather, all the elites had their bibs visible even with the layers they chose to wear that day or not.

    If they let this slide, it seems like a slippery slope for excuses to break what is perceived as “minor” rules with no punishment. Elites are elites for a reason. Maybe this guy shouldn’t be running at that level if he can’t follow the stated and well known rules.

    • Agreed. As Derek even highlighted, “Among elite competitors, or anyone vying for an award, this rule is not ‘minor’ and a violation isn’t a ‘technicality’. ” I can’t number the races I’ve worked, where I have to shout “Show your bib… display your bib!” A 2:16 marathoner had got to know better.

      And: When all else fails, READ THE (race) INSTRUCTIONS!

  2. Since this appears to be a loop course, and not a point to point, self identification as a competitor becomes even more important. We’ll not bother to consider those on social media who say Terer should have known Mesfun was a fellow elite. There are at least a half dozen reasons off the top of my head as to why that argument is invalid.

    But to Mesfun… He clearly knew the covered bib was a problem. The finishing chute appears split from the course, so he knew the bib had to be showing so marshals would know he was in the right place. I think it was intentional deception. But, even if it was innocent ignorance, his action still deceived his competitors, and should be DQ’d. So either he gets what he deserves, or he lives and learns. Either way, it can’t be allowed to happen again.

  3. There is fault on all sides. The athletes (especially elites) need to know the rules. The RD and race organization should have enforced it at the start or elsewhere on the course.

    You give him the money, but DQ him. You move the 2nd place runner up to be the winner and give that person the money, as well. Basically “sweep it under the rug and avoid the PR nightmare”

    • How do you know the RD or other race officials didn’t say something to him either before the race or during the race? Not that they should have to, standard practice is USATF rules apply whether a racer knows the rules or not. It’s like if I’m playing in a golf tournament and I knock one out of bounds and I don’t know the rule and just toss a ball down where it went OB and add a stroke instead of taking a stroke & distance penalty. I didn’t gain any advantage over the field did I? Doesn’t matter, if the infraction is brought the officals’ attention they’re going to DQ me. Or in triathlon, if I don’t understand the USAT drafting rules, ride right behind someone and an official catches me, I’m going to get a time penalty.

      Officials don’t really have discretion to ignore rulebook infractions if they witness them or a protest is filed. At that point they go into judgment mode and render a decision. It’s not always what you want to have to do on the PR side, but you do have the responsibility to act the way the rules tell you to act.

  4. Agree with Jon – Because the race directors have just as much responsibility here, they will need to eat the additional cost.

    • I disagree that the officials or race directors have responsibility to “enforce” it (meaning yell at the competitor as he blows by). They can observe and make a ruling but they have no duty to “coach” anyone. This isn’t middle school. This marathon is on public roads and while I’m sure there is some agreement made with the permitting jurisdiction on use of the roads, removal of say a true “bandit” would fall to a sworn officer. How long would it be permissible to obscure the number before it becomes a violation? 1, 5, 12 miles? It can’t be quantified. You obscured it or you didn’t. The official(s) should make the call on what they observed and be done with it.

  5. If he hadn’t taken off the shirt in the final meters before the end, I would think just an oversight on his part. Since he took it off, after checking that he was clear, I would lean to the side that he was trying to deceive competitors. DQ

  6. USATF rules apply only to sanctioned races? Can’t find any evidence on the race website (or USATF site) that this race was sanctioned.

  7. Just to throw somewhat of a pet peeve into the mix – the race directors didn’t do anyone any favors by merging the finish of the marathon with the half marathon. If they hadn’t done that, there likely wouldn’t have been an issue regardless of whether the bib was showing or not. I ran the Cleveland marathon a couple years ago in around 3:30 and had to weave around teams of half marathon walkers during the last mile or so. I realize that it works logistically to merge the finishes, but race directors should do a better job of separating the 2 races.

  8. Wow. Mesfun is declared the winner, due to what they say is a ‘gray area’ in the rules, and Terer withdrew his complaint saying he couldn’t have caught him anyway. The official statement claimed Terer knew he was a fellow elite, but I’m not sure if that’s the standard.

    If the rules are that unclear, they need to be changed. I still don’t buy Mesfun’s innocence.

    • So, of the two top finishers, one has shown himself to be a sportsman, and the other has not. I tip my hat to you, Mr. Terer!

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