As long as marathon events have existed, there has always been a unique group of individuals determined to cheat their way to
The motives of the individual vary, sometimes it is to achieve a medal, on other occasions it is because they just aren’t fit enough to finish the race. In recent years there have been a startling number of cases where it is merely to impress on social media.
So prevalent is cheating at events that there is even a dedicated investigative website set up just to catch the culprits. If you have a few minutes, we recommend heading over to the brilliant Marathon Investigation for the latest stories, some of them are truly unbelievable!
Technology Gives and Technology Takes
Tracking apps, smartwatches and fitness trackers can all monitor a runners activity with pin-point accuracy, apps like Strava have changed the way we exercise. Gone are the days of using a known distance and a stopwatch to track progress.
But none of this is really that new, it is merely a different way of packaging the technology. Science has been giving athletes an insight into their performance for as long as it has been capable. It has also been used to create exploits in many sports, whether this is through biomedical enhancements or motorised devices in disciplines such as cycling.
But now, technology has found a new way to strike back at cheaters and it is China who is leading the way!
Marathon running is on the rise in China but after 237 people were caught cheating at the Shenzhen marathon in 2018, the authorities, who branded the culprits “deeply shameful”, decided that more needed to be done to catch cheats.
Especially as 46 of the people caught weren’t actually cutting corners but instead cheating in other ways, such as hiring other people to run in their place!
For the Kunming Marathon in December 2018 all runners were required to carry a valid form of photo ID as well as passing through the events facial recognition system.
Facial recognition software is already used throughout China to catch both dangerous criminals and shame lesser actions such as queue cutting or jaywalking. But during the marathon, the cameras were used to track runners to ensure they stayed on course.
It was also used to check that they didn’t swap bibs, get a mate (or employee!) to run the race for them and to monitor times between checkpoints.
The system was said to have worked successfully with a lot of cheaters being both deterred and caught by the system but whether this level of surveillance will ever come to the Western World remains to be seen.
Perhaps the better question is would you welcome face tracking at your marathon event, if it meant cheaters were caught?