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Disqualified Runner Was in Predicament

Women's race: Russia's Ilyina says she was looking for a bathroom, not trying to gain an advantage.


The gold medal was long gone, and so was her bib number, F3, having found a sad home in the wastebasket in the women's restroom at the Central Library.

Why would Nadezhda Ilyina want anything to remind her of Sunday's Los Angeles Marathon?

Ilyina's triumphant morning turned into a trail of tears. Shortly after crossing the finish line in first place, Ilyina was disqualified for having taken a shortcut through a gas station/convenience store at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Virgil Avenue in the 22nd mile.

The ruling was that Ilyina had obtained an unfair advantage because of the shortcut.

"If I did, I didn't do it intentionally," the 32-year-old Russian said through an interpreter. "I'm not sure of what happened."

Ilyina and her husband and coach, Ger Wijenberg, said she has been suffering from a bladder infection, and needed to find a bathroom.

"I was afraid to drink water because I had a stomach problem," she said. "I had been looking for the bathroom since mile 3 and at the 12th mile it got easier and I started picking up the pace."

In mile 22, Ilyina started having cramps and ran into the gas station, but said she couldn't find a bathroom. "She came back [out] at the same point," Wijenberg said.

Evidence suggested otherwise from five race officials who were riding in car ahead of the race leaders. And hours later, Wijenberg said she did not come back at the same point but ended up losing time because of the cramps.

Ilyina and Wijenberg were undecided about whether they would file a protest to an appeals jury. The deadline is noon today.

Post-race discussion of her disqualification--the first such penalty of a winner at the Los Angeles Marathon--took on the tone of a trial at times. Second-place finisher Irina Bogacheva even pointed out that she didn't see Ilyina at the starting line, and Ilyina grew angry and asked her how she could say that.

Sympathy came from 22-year-old winner Lornah Kiplagat of Kenya, who felt sorry for her friend. They share the same business manager.

Between the sharp words with Bogacheva, Ilyina cried and used a white towel to stem the tears, but the tears spilled over to her sweatshirt. Questions from the media brought more tears.

Race referee Basil Honikman, a USA Track and Field official, said he did see Ilyina at the starting line. But Toni Reavis of Channel 13 said station spotter Craig Evans saw Ilyina take shortcuts on two other occasions during the race, saving about a second or two each time.

In Europe, runners are allowed to cut corners. "Where there is no barrier, you may run," Honikman said. But that difference was pointed out Saturday night at a meeting for runners and coaches. Specifically, cutting through gas stations was mentioned as a something not to do.

"It's just regrettable on every account," Honikman said. "Whereas we did talk about it yesterday, they are always language problems. I want this sport to be famous because people break world records or because they have a great competitor. And not because of something of a sensation."

Other female marathon runners have been disqualified for receiving pacing from their coach or another male runner during a race. Honikman said he once disqualified an athlete at the Orange Bowl marathon in Miami, British runner Joyce Smith, who collapsed about 800 meters from the finish. Fans assisted her and she finished first.

Meanwhile, Wijenberg was hoping for video footage to back up his wife. If anything, his chances are better here. Doesn't everyone in Los Angeles carry around a video camera?

Ilyina, whose best marathon time was 2 hours 30 minutes 44 seconds in a third-place finish in Paris in 1993, is no stranger to strange finishes. At a cross-country race, she once got caught in the finish line tape and someone tried to help her escape and she finished third.

That someone was Wijenberg, who then introduced himself. Now, they live together in the Netherlands.

Wijenberg smiled wryly when asked what they've been working on in training sessions.

"Strategy," he said. "And that has nothing to do with cutting corners."

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