The Marathon Cheat

A couple of days after this year’s London Marathon (one week after I ran Brighton), a story doing the rounds on my running groups was causing widespread outrage.  Jake Halliday, a sub 4 hour marathon runner who had raised nearly £50,000 for Bloodwise, had lost his running number somewhere near the end of the race, and had been pulled out by a marshal with just 300 metres to go.  (Really poor show by London Marathon here, by the way – they could have easily have verified his identity at the finish instead, especially as he was still wearing a timing chip).  When he went to look at his official pictures from the race, he found that an imposter had found his lost number.  Instead of attempting to reunited it with its owner by handing it in or displaying it somewhere, he took advantage of Jake’s misfortune and joined the race, crossing the line and taking the medal and t-shirt that Jake had been deprived of.  Not only that, he had posed smugly for the official photographer, kissing the medal and falling to one knee with his best “proud yet humble” facial expression.  It was the photos in particular that made my blood boil, and I prayed that the imposter would be identified and punished.

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Stanley Skupian and Jake Halliday (Metro/marathonfoto)

This was the last I heard of the story until earlier this week, when I learned that the imposter, now identified as 38-year-old Stanley Skupian, had been jailed for 13 weeks for “fraud by false representation”.  I was surprised but pleased – I actually thought he’d get away with it, but thirteen weeks seemed a fair sentence. But to my surprise and horror, suddenly people were coming out and expressing sympathy for our marathon cheat.

I will admit that I am far from being an expert on the British legal system, but morally, this seemed like absolutely terrible thing to do to me.  A marathon medal does not have a great monetary value (entering the race costs £39, a medal can be sold for up to £100) but for many people who have earned them, they are absolutely priceless.  My medal from Brighton, framed on my wall, is my prized possession.  Six months plus of sweating, crying, injuring myself, limping to the physiotherapist, splashing down the Thames path, sliding in the snow, catching hypothermia at the Brighton half, gritting my teeth and persevering earned me that medal.  Marathon training feels like a full time job, and the average salary in the UK is £27,000.  So a marathon medal feels like it is worth £13,500, and to me it felt like Stanley Skupian stole something that valuable and laughed in the faces of all of us who earned ours legitimately.  This feeling only got worse when I read what he had had to say for himself:

“I saw the number face-up in the middle of the road,” he said. “I knew if I had one I would get a medal – my heart leaped, it was a dream come true. I had no thoughts of the person whose number it was… I thought I’d present the medal to my seven-year-old son, Viktos, as it would make him so proud of me.”

His lawyer said:  ‘At the time he hadn’t fully quite appreciated that he was doing anything wrong.

‘He dedicated the completion of it to his seven-year-old son and to homeless people to inspire them that good things can happen to those that are less fortunate.’

 Now, I think that if  Stanley Skupian had held his hands up and said “Yes, I did a really bad thing and I am sorry” and arranged for the medal and t-shirt to be send to Jake Halliday, that would have been that.   But instead, he seems to think he did something heroic and set an example to his son and homeless people everywhere.  What is he teaching them?  That if you cheat and steal you can get the things that people work their arses off for?

He also went on to moan that:

  • He was homeless (not mentioning that this was because his wife had thrown him out and reported him repeatedly to the police for harassment. She had also refused him access to his son)
  • He was “suffering from a short and temporary mental illness” that conveniently lasted about as long as it takes to steal a number, run 300 metres with it and claim a medal
  • He didn’t understand what he was doing wrong (close to “I thought there was a burglar in the bathroom” in the league of Unbelievable Crime Excuses)
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Photo from The Scottish Sun.

He also did not mention the fact that he was recently apprehended for stealing a houseboat, or the fact that when he was caught he had draped the marathon finisher’s shirt over the tiller.  (There is photographic evidence in the link). Or that he gave an interview to the Scottish Sun wearing the t-shirt (above).  I can kind of see how people might be predisposed to be sympathetic to him after seeing the words “homeless” and “immigrant” (let’s face it, immigrants are not having a great time of it at the moment) but I can’t get my head around how anyone could read the full story and still feel that sympathy.  Being homeless or an immigrant does not automatically make you a decent person!

I have noticed that there is a definite trend for non-runners to be more sympathetic than runners (particularly marathon runners) and I wonder if that is because it is harder to relate to the emotional value of a marathon medal when you haven’t earned one yourself.  I keep hearing “but X did [worse thing] and only got [lighter punishment]” but I don’t think that makes any sense.  You can’t compensate for one miscarriage of justice by creating another.  The only medal that Stanley Skupian deserves is one that says “THIEVING SCROTE” in massive letters, and if he wants to make his son proud, he should apologise to Jake Halliday and to marathon runners everywhere and give back the medal and t-shirt.

One final note: Eventclips are great for keeping marathon bibs stuck to your top in all circumstances.  I swear by them.

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