April 25, 2013 9:46 am

Runners handed lifetime ban from Vancouver Sun Run for cheating

Two runners who posted top times have been stripped of their Vancouver Sun Run results and banned from competing in future after they were found to have cheated in this year’s 10-kilometre event.

“It’s very disheartening and discouraging to think that an event like this — that is really about participation, community and just getting out and challenging yourself — can be marred by people who cheat and think it’s OK to do that,” said Jamie Pitblado, vice-president of promotions and community investment for The Province and The Sun.

Pitblado said two people reported Vancouver’s Neena Cheema to run organizers, and one reported Richmond’s Mohammed Razak. Cheema had placed first in the women’s 50 to 54 age category with a time of 41:44, while Razak placed first in the men’s 55 to 59 category with a time of 36:35.

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The whistleblowers believe Cheema and Razak may have taken shortcuts to skip sections of the race. After examining video evidence and run-time calculations, Pitblado notified both runners that they would be stripped of their medals and barred from the event for life. He noted neither one argued with the findings.

Susan Gordon was one of two people who reported the incidents to organizers. By reviewing race videos and online athletic records, Gordon, 53, appears to have nabbed a racer who has repeatedly won her division in the Sun Run, allegedly by cheating.

“I hope justice will be done. There is 47,999 other people out there who are running an honest race,” she told The Province.

Gordon — who generally places top-three in the B.C. races she enters — says she always checks out her competition after races. So when she saw a woman named Neena Cheema had won her age group this year, she researched Cheema’s prior results. Cheema had first won in her age group in 2007 at the Sun Run, but didn’t have results in other races in B.C., which seemed odd, Gordon said. On top of that, she added that Cheema’s Sun Run win in 2007 appeared to be about 22 minutes faster than Cheema’s first recorded Sun Run in 2006, according to online records.

“That (kind of improvement) is highly unusual,” Gordon said.

Now suspicious, Gordon reviewed several videos of the 2013 race. But she couldn’t find Cheema in the lead group of runners on the Cambie Bridge. After reviewing the clip about 10 times, she says she spotted Cheema suddenly come up behind an older couple who were walking by the side of the bridge.

“This woman comes around wearing a heavy coat, and I thought, ‘Well that is weird, she’s walking,’” Gordon recalled.

Putting together images of Cheema walking, along with some calculations, and footage of Cheema crossing the finish, she shared the information with both her Vancouver Falcons Athletic Club race coach and her brother, also an avid runner. All were convinced that Cheema was cheating, and evidence was forwarded to race officials.

“I guess I move from fourth place into the medals (in the age class), but I was thinking of all the runners over the previous years,” Gordon said. “We work really, really hard. I’m angry for all the other runners.”

Cheema is employed at B.C. Place and was running as part of a corporate team Sunday.

Calls to Cheema went unanswered. A message left for Razak was also unreturned by press time.

Pitblado said organizers will now implement timing mats in next year’s event and onwards. The mats, which are placed on the ground throughout the course, will ‘clock-in’ runners at various points to ensure they’re keeping to the race route.

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