Officials of the Quad-City Times Bix 7 admitted they’ve never seen anything quite like it before.
Not just in their race, but in any road race.
However, they plan to take a second look and hear an appeal related to the incident that occurred between Kenya’s Silas Kipruto and Ethiopia’s Teshome Mekonen during the 42nd annual running of the Bix 7 on Saturday.
Kipruto, who won his third Bix 7 championship in the race, was at the front of the lead pack during the fifth mile as the runners began the long, slow ascent up Kirkwood Boulevard. Suddenly, he turned and swung his right hand at Mekonen, who was running directly behind him. He did not appear to make contact, and Mekonen pointed angrily at him as the race continued.
The incident was caught on video by the KWQC television broadcast and on still photographs taken by the Quad-City Times’ John Schultz, who was riding on the back of a motorcycle just ahead of the runners.
Mekonen filed a protest after the race but Bix 7 officials, after looking at the KWQC video several times at varying speeds, determined that Kipruto did not do anything “flagrant.’’
“There was no flagrant contact,’’ assistant race director Dan Breidinger said Sunday. “Maybe his action wasn’t the best, but from the angle we saw, he definitely swung and missed. It wasn’t necessarily malicious because you could see it was a spur-of-the-moment thing.’’
Breidinger and Karl Ungurean, who acts as the primary rules official for the race, said it appeared that Mekonen was running directly behind Kipruto and clipped him, possibly multiple times throughout the race.
Ungurean said it’s easy for trailing runners to trip the person in front of them by following too closely. He thinks that is why Kipruto reacted.
“You just want them to get out of my way. ‘Don’t do that,’’’ Ungurean said. “I think that’s what (Kipruto) was doing.’’
Breidinger also said he didn’t think Mekonen was blameless.
“It’s kind of like in football where someone takes a cheap shot and then someone retaliates and all you see is the retaliation,’’ he said.
Breidinger noted that it’s also well-known that there is no love lost between runners from Kenya and Ethiopia. Athletes from the adjacent countries in East Africa seldom associate with one another at races and are bitter rivals in worldwide events.
When Mekonen’s post-race protest was denied, his agent said they wanted to appeal the decision.
The Bix 7 has an appeals committee, headed by Ungurean, that will meet within the next day or so to review footage and decide whether or not it was the correct decision.
The race has security cameras stationed around the out-and-back course, including one on a railroad overpass not far from where the incident occurred. The committee will look at that footage and look again at the KWQC video.
“All we can do is go by what we see on the film,’’ Ungurean said. “We’ll look it over and decide.’’
If the committee members determine the original decision was correct, then the incident is over. Mekonen has no further recourse.
If they decide Kipruto’s actions impacted the outcome of the race, Mekonen would be compensated financially based on how much higher they think he might have finished.
“That’s the issue they will decide,’’ Breidinger said. “Was Mekonen intimidated to the point where he didn’t feel he could pass Kipruto after that? Was there intimidation that caused him to finish further back in the race? From what we could see, we didn’t feel anything that occurred affected the remainder of the race.’’
In fact, Mekonen almost immediately swooped out around Kipruto and passed him on the right. Kipruto regained the lead shortly thereafter and went on to win. Mekonen finished eighth.
Breidinger said that if Kipruto had made contact when he swung at Mekonen, the post-race ruling probably would have been much different.
He said he’s never seen a runner actually take a swing, as Kipruto did, but he said clipping and pushing among runners is very common in track races.
Ungurean, who has been part of the race’s hierarchy for all 42 years that it has been held, said this is only the second time that the appeals committee has had to convene. It did so in 2002 when female runners contended that winner Colleen De Reuck was being paced by her husband Darren and gained an unfair advantage as a result.
Ungurean said video showed that Darren De Reuck was two blocks behind his wife for most of the race.