The weekend saw another massively controversial triathlon ruling when World Long Distance champion Marjolaine Pierré says she was disqualified 50 metres from the line when poised to win at the Triathlon de Royan.
On home roads in France, the world #15 had built up a big lead in the half-distance event before events took a serious turn for the worse.
‘A lot of fear, tears and disappointment’
Writing on Instagram a day later and translated from her French, she said: “I saw myself dying. And it is after a lot of fear, tears and disappointment (and a few hours of IV fluids and care) that I am writing these few words to you…
“Yesterday I felt like my body was failing me, a sudden loss of strength in my legs 2km from the finish.
“From the start of the race I felt without energy, I had the feeling that the distance was insurmountable and that I would never see the end. Seven minutes ahead of the race, I managed my pace then… I don’t know what happened…”
Describing what she does remember, she added: “After this moment of failure, I walked and then managed to recover to finish the race still in first position. When I see the finish arch, I am so relieved and happy to have fought to share the victory with Clément 💖.”
She was referring to her partner Clément Mignon as it had appeared they were about to repeat their feat at those World Long Distance Championships in Ibiza in May when they both won their respective races, Mignon having landed the men’s race here by six minutes from compatriot Arthur Horseau.
‘I lost a lot on this day’
But Pierre revealed: “Never, never in my life, would I have thought of being disqualified by a member of the organizing committee 50m from the finish, with the arch in front of my eyes and the encouragement of the public.
“Thank you to all the kind people who surround me and have surrounded me in this very special moment.
“I lost a lot on this day and not just morally. Triathlon is my passion but it remains my job.
“I saw a lot of humanity and kindness in some people. In others, a total lack of humanity, of concern for my state of health.”
There has been a huge amount of support for Pierre on social media, with German star Laura Philipp one of those to ask exactly what happened before saying: “That’s sad to read. I’m sorry for Marjolaine.”
Cozumel episode led to rule changes
We have reached out to the race organisers – and will update accordingly – to ask for their perspective in a case which has echoes of the famous Jonny Brownlee collapse in Cozumel when his brother Alistair helped him make it across the finish line – exactly seven years ago.
That went viral and is arguably triathlon’s most iconic moment to the wider world, but it did lead to new ITU rules, the latest version of which are below.
But even today it’s an incredibly tricky balance between the strict rules, which can vary depending on the event and location, and assisting someone in need – or the definition of sportsmanship.
For example, the current Officials ‘Olympic Oath’ reads: “In the name of all the judges and officials, I promise that we shall officiate in these Olympic Games with complete impartiality, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them in the true spirit of sportsmanship.”
And World Triathlon’s rules on ‘outside assistance’ are as follows:
a.) The assistance provided by event personnel or Technical Officials is allowed but is limited to providing drinks, nutrition, mechanical and medical assistance, upon the approval of the Technical Delegate or Head Referee. The Head Referee may authorise the accredited team support to repair flat tyres or replace wheel(s) if the incident happens before the first athlete arrives at Transition 1. Athletes competing in the same competition may assist each other with incidental items such as, but not restricted to, nutrition and drinks after an aid station, pumps, tubular tyres, inner tubes and puncture repair kits;
b.) Athletes may not provide essential race equipment to other athletes in the same competition, while the competition is in progress. Specifically, items that may not be provided to other athletes includes but is not limited to complete bicycles, bicycle frames, wheels and helmets. The penalty for this will be disqualification of both athletes. Athletes may provide to other athletes competing in the same competition other items of equipment provided that the donor is able to continue with their own competition.
c.) An athlete cannot physically assist the forward progress of another athlete on any part of the course. This will result in both athletes being disqualified.
The interpretation of “forward progress” would appear to be one of the key points in this case – and is there a distinction in terms of whether another athlete just steps in to help rather than is asked?
No ‘deliberate desire to cheat’
Pierre herself provided more detail from her point of view, adding: “I was sanctioned because I held the arm of the usher bike for a few seconds, member of the organization? Because I received a bottle of water from a member of the organization’s staff? Because another professional athlete saw me staggering and took me under his wing to ask me how I was?
I think I demonstrated a mental strength of character that I didn’t even know existed, rather than a deliberate desire to cheat and break the laws of the sport.
“Thank you to my loved ones, sponsors and the medical staff of incredible tenderness 💖 who allow me to move forward.”