Athletes criticise race marshals after wheelchair half-marathon fiasco

Half-marathon officials accused of mishandling the competition and manhandling competitors

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 5:08am

Two athletes competing in last Sunday's wheelchair half-marathon at the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon event have heavily criticised race organisers. One of them even claimed he was manhandled by marshals.

Rob Holliday from Tung Chung and other half-marathon wheelchair competitors were informed by organisers - the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association (HKAAA) - that there would be a one-hour cut off time at the 16-kilometre point.

This is not unusual as that distance is usually easily achievable in one hour on a level course. However, the tough uphill gradient on the Hong Kong course meant that the time could not be done by the majority of entrants.

Five out of the six competitors did not make the mark and were disqualified. But the stopping area at the halfway mark was on a downhill section, and this is where the problems really began.

"The marshals had no idea of how to stop a wheelchair racer. Totally overstepping the mark, they physically restrained me," Holliday, 53, said.

"After it was confirmed that I was no longer in the race I wanted to leave, but they continued to restrain me and prevent me from moving."

Holliday has represented Great Britain at Adaptive Rowing in Italy, Spain and Japan.

He has competed in wheelchair marathons in major cities in Europe, the United States and the Middle East, but his experience in Hong Kong was his worst yet.

"My treatment on [that] Sunday represents a new low point for me," he said.

Chairman of the ParaTriathlon Committee Hong Kong Triathlon Association Ajmal Samuel was also one of the wheelchair competitors disqualified, and witnessed the treatment of Holliday.

He said it was "totally uncalled for". He agreed that having a cut-off time was not unusual, but because the organisers made no concession to the course gradient in spite of prior requests, it was "inherently unfair".

Kwan Kee, chairman of the HKAAA, said that they were working hard to get the organisation of the wheelchair event right, but that they were limited by how long they could keep the roads closed. "We have to balance this with other athletes using the same course without causing a dangerous situation."

Kee said one alternative was to start the wheelchair race earlier, but this would again depend on whether permission could be given by authorities to close the roads.

"The HKAAA will continue to work to find a solution to this issue. It is our wish to include at least a half marathon wheelchair race in next year's race again," he said.