First or fastest: Who’s the race winner?

Two Sundays ago in San Francisco, U.S.A., a freakish event happened. No, prisoners did not escape from Alcatraz (it’s been closed since 1963) and, no, the red-colored Golden Gate Bridge wasn’t painted gold—it was another type of oddity.

In the Nike Women’s Marathon, a total of 20,000 runners joined. Nothing wrong with that—in fact, that’s a grand celebration on the fight against breast cancer this “Pink October.”

Now, here’s the abnormality: One runner finished first while another clocked the fastest time. Yes, no misprint there: Nora Colligan crossed the finish line ahead of everybody else while another runner, Arien O’Connell, recorded the race’s fastest time. How possible? Each runner is given a ‘chip’ that’s attached to the shoe and one’s time begins (and ends) as she crosses the starting (and finish) lines. With that chip, O’Connell ran the quickest time.

But during the awarding, Colligan won first place; O’Connell did not—which caused a controversy. Now, who should have won? Here are some comments…

Steve Ferraren of the Cebu Executive Runners Club: “I agree with the organizers. It may not be a popular one but it’s fair. It was partly her fault for not being at the front together with the elite runners because her personal best time is good enough to compete. Besides, it would have been a different situation if she was running side-by-side with the winners… the pressure would have somewhat affected all their times.”

Annie Neric, Gym Supervisor, Holiday Gym & Spa: “Wish I could be as fast as Connell (he!he!). Anyway, she should be declared the winner. Sayang, she made a wrong decision of staying at the back of the pack. Wrong move, wrong decision!”

Richard Tiu, a missionary teaching at the Bible College of East Africa in Nairobi: “I believe that in any marathon race the first to cross the finish line should be the winner because marathon races are always started en masse. It is but one race and not a group of races. Race officials were right in pointing out that running far behind the lead pack is like running an altogether different race. It is a runner’s responsibility to run with the ‘elite group’ if she is contending to win. I’m not a serious runner, sir, but I do know that running in the lead pack takes a lot of wind out of you rather than just tailing behind (in cycling the term is ‘tranko’). If it would have been an individual time trial race (ITT) in cycling, she would have won hands down.

“By the way, I’m in Kenya where the Nairobi International Marathon fires off a night’s wink from now. As you know, Kenyans are quite good in this discipline… A Cebuano far from home, Richard.”

Frederic and Millette Chiongbian: “From a production point of view, true, being a race, the first to cross the finish line is the winner. Now, what happened here is that the fastest runner did not include herself among the elite simply because she probably did not think of herself as such—being a teacher by profession.

“From an organizers point of view, and I think this will be precedence, with the start line already segregating the elites from the non elites, there should also have been an elite and non-elite categories for awarding. Runners are a time-based breed.”

Dr. George Ursal Ruiz of Sambag I: “Since this controversy arose, I presume there was no hard-set ruling or guidelines regarding this unusual marathon result. Therefore, it is just fair that awards be accorded to all deserving races. This would mean that this time, two honors be awarded: one for the one who reached the finish line first; and another one for the one who finished with the fastest time. Next time around, the organizers must be clear-cut in their rules.”

FINAL VERDICT. While Colligan was declared the champion on race day, four days after, O’Connell was awarded as “a” first-place winner (not “the” winner)—meaning Nike acknowledged both as winners, averting public backlash. So, two winners—and everybody’s happy. But, here’s the intriguing part: This compelling scenario can happen again. Till then, the message to all who’ll cross that finish line first thinking they’ve won…. Not so fast!

John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!


  1. Sir John Pages,

    Good Day! Please allow me to say something with regards on the issue of San Francisco Nike Women’s Marathon on the topic of MATCH POINT last Sunday and today’s issue.. I’ve notice that some of the comments na nabasa ko today was so similar to others. They’re point of view was all about time and who’s the first who crossed the line then who has the fastest time, but my opinion goes like this.. I’m a Nike Staff of… (and we‘ve met Sir John) Last Sunday you’ve mentioned that each runners was given a nike chip, If I’m not mistaken it was called Nike Plus (correct me if I’m wrong)which is a device that can gather data, pace, and time. I think when the organizers told the runners to insert the chip. They put it in each shoes na pantaypantay, when it was inserted , automatically it will start gather data unless na hindi mo igagalaw ang ang mga feet mo. Co’s nike chip is powered by Bluetooth device that allow to deliver data to your sportsband or ipod nano nike plus. And another device called(FSC)foot step count. Na kmukuha ng time,pace and speed bawat apak mo sa chip. Pg ginalaw mo yong paa mo kahit your running in place tatakbo ang timer dahil sa pressure ng paa na tumatama sa chip. So..cguro ms. O’connel khit nsa likod sya ginagalaw nya ang mga paa nya khit di pa ng start. Di nya cguro alam na kumukuha na ng time ang chip. Then di rin sya mabantay ng organizer pra ma advice not move her feet. Kya sa tingin ko ganun ng yari, because ang speed sa running using nike chip ng re rely lang yan sa time na bibigay ng chip. You can have the time,speed and pace khit nsa treadmill ka lang…. we should remember that The Nike women marathon in san Francisco was unusual competitions because it’s a combination of new technology using Nike plus of Nike. ….I’m not an elite runner like Ma’am Mellitte Chiongbian and Sir Yong Larazabal but I believe that Nora Colligan was the winner.. In marathon the first who crossed the finish line sya ang panalo.

    Thank you Sir john sa mga write ups mo. I will support you Match POInt always! More power and god bless!
    See you in our store.


  2. HI Eric!

    Thanks for the email. The chip referred to is not the Nike Plus. It’s often called a “Champion Chip” where the marathon organizers will be able to track your whole run… from start to finish. The good thing with this chip is that (with 20,000 runners) you can’t track all the participants (in marathons decades ago, before the chip was required, there were some who did shortcuts and ended up winning!)… with the chip, your entire run can be tracked because they have stations that you have to cross along the marathon route.

    The Nike Plus is different (I have one). It’s a device to track your mileage/speed/time.



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