L Aruna Devi finished the Mumbai marathon in 3 hrs 9 minutes 59 seconds faster than all other Indian challengers,but was too washed out by the effort to realise that she wasnt among the three women who figured on the podium and picked the medals.
Apparently,volunteers in charge of ushering the winners completely missed that an Indian running with thousands of others from Africa,Europe and Asia had run past the tape-line,and instead mobbed Indresh Dhiraj as the Indian winner a good five minutes after Aruna Devi shouldve been swooped upon for clinching the honours.
Officials dont deny that this blatant oversight couldve been a result of volunteers mostly college students from Mumbai failing to recognise the 31-year-old Manipuri as an Indian,and mistaking her for a foreign runner owing to her North-east features.
Bruno Goveas from Procam International,the events promoters,said,Its likely that the volunteers confused her for a foreigner,so we missed her. There was a goof-up.
The official result-list which records the timings from the electronic-chip,and has details like bib number,name and nationality averted a bigger blunder,when organisers admitted to the mistake and went looking for the real winner.
Aruna Devi,an Eastern Railway employee posted in Kolkata,said: I knew I had won,but I had no energy left after finishing the race. Initially nobody came forward to offer water. Then one Didi (a volunteer) took me to resting room for athletes,and gave me a massage. When I felt all right I asked around,but I was told the medal-ceremony was over.
Besides not climbing the podium,Aruna Devi running only her second full-marathon,and the first in Mumbai also missed receiving the $2,500 prize-cheque in full view of the thousands of cheering spectators.
Officials,though terming the fiasco unfortunate,said they hadnt figured out how it happened. Adille Sumariwala,leading the technicals officials team,said,We always had the names right on our result sheets. Im trying to find out how the mistake happened and Ill do a post mortem on the volunteers actions. But there are so many agencies operating at the finishing line. Volunteers dont know all athletes by name and face,hence the confusion. She has got the cheque and medal now. Why the officials didnt notice that three different runners were escorted to the podium,remains unanswered. more Reports,page 22