A top runner who was disqualified from an ultra-marathon after reportedly traveling by car for some of the high-profile race hours after arriving from Australia has broken her silence.
Australian-based Scottish athlete Joasia Zakrzewski, 47, has been stripped of the medal and trophy she received for finishing third in the 2023 GB Ultras 50-mile (80km) race from Manchester to Liverpool on April 7, but was later charged of traveling two and a half miles of route by car.
The former Commonwealth Games athlete has opened up about the scandal to explain why she accepted the lift in a friend’s car after feeling ‘sick’ after flying in from Australia the night before.
Now living on the NSW Central Coast north of Sydney, where she also works as a GP, Zakrzewski admits she made a ‘massive mistake’ in accepting her third place trophy, adding that her actions were ‘not malicious’ and that the incident was caused by miscommunication.
The cheating scandal comes less than three years after Zakrzewski made international headlines when she broke four records in Australia.
She said BBC Scotland how she got lost half way through the course of the GB Ultras when she started to feel pain in her leg and thought she couldn’t go any further.
Joasia Zakrzewski, 47, (left) has since been disqualified after finishing third in the 2023 GB Ultras event where she posed for photos with her medal
She says she accepted a ride in a friend’s car to the next checkpoint where she told the marshals she would drop out.
“When I got to the checkpoint I told them I was driving away and I was in the car, and they said, ‘You’ll hate yourself if you stop,'” she told BBC Scotland on Wednesday.
“I agreed to continue in a non-competitive manner.
“I made sure not to overtake the runner in front of me when I saw her because I didn’t want to disrupt her race.”
She admits she was an idiot for accepting the medal and wooden trophy she got when she crossed the finish line before posing for photos
“I was tired and jet-lagged and felt nauseous,” Zakrzewski said.
“I held up my hands, I should have given them back and not had any pictures taken, but I wasn’t feeling well and dizzy and wasn’t thinking clearly.”
Joasia Zakrzewski finished third in the race above but has since been accused of covering two and a half miles of the route by car. The runner allegedly caught after tracking data showed she reached a ‘superhuman’ speed of 35 mph
Zakrzewski added that she has returned to medal and trophy and apologized to fellow runner Mel Sykes, who has since been awarded third place.
Sykes weighed in on the saga this week to vent her anger and slay her rival in a series of tweets.
“Great news for me, but very bad news for sportsmanship,” she wrote.
“The following happened because a fellow competitor cheated. After research, she is now DQ’d, and rightfully so.
No race director wants this to happen at any of their events and the GB Ultras team have been fantastic in conducting their investigation.
The sad thing about all of this is that it completely takes away race organizers, fellow competitors and fair sport.
“How can someone who knows they cheated cross the finish line, collect a medal/trophy and have their picture taken!”
Zakrzewski was allegedly caught cheating after tracking information revealed she reached a “superhuman” top speed of 35 mph – much faster than Usain Bolt at his best.
Just weeks earlier, she broke the world record for the most kilometers run by a woman in 48 hours.
In July 2020, Zakrzewski broke the national Scottish record by finishing second in the Canberra 24-hour circuit event.
The performance lasted her to fifth on the British all-time list for 24-hour running.
She also broke three other major time or distance records en route to her remarkable 24-hour feat.
Friends claim Dr Zakrzewski (pictured during the race) accepted the lift because she felt ‘sick’, having flown in from Australia the night before, and say she is ‘sincerely sorry’
Rivals have called for the runner – who represented Scotland in the marathon at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow – to be banned from racing.
Nearly 400 runners braved a 6am start to pound the roads from Manchester to Liverpool on Good Friday for the annual 50 mile Ultra Marathon.
Stopping for high-calorie snacks and drinks along the way to give them much-needed energy, the dedicated amateurs spent up to 13 hours relentlessly chalking up the miles.
Dr. Zakrzewski crossed the finish line just 22 seconds behind the runner-up in the women’s category in a time of seven hours and 25 minutes and was proudly photographed posing with her bronze medal.
However, the Daily Mail has learned that rumors soon began to swirl around her achievement.
Examination of the tracking data showed she had covered about two and a half miles of the route by car — possibly gaining as much as 25 minutes.
In addition, it showed that she followed the main road rather than the race route for part of the event. She was reported to have completed one mile of the race in just one minute and 40 seconds, and was unceremoniously disqualified.
The third-placed woman’s medal was instead awarded to NHS podiatrist Mel Sykes, who on Twitter labeled her embarrassed rival a ‘cheat’.
Examination of the tracking data showed that Dr. Zakrzewski (pictured during the race) had covered about two and a half miles of the route by car – possibly gaining as much as 25 minutes.
Race data provided by Dr. Zakrzewski uploaded to the sports app Strava and shared on Twitter by Mel Sykes, the runner who was awarded her third place medal, allegedly revealed that she “didn’t take the course of the race.” She also claimed that there was a section where Dr. Zakrzewski ‘didn’t make sense’
After starting out as a racing doctor, Dr. Zakrzewski took up extreme running himself and set a series of records.
Her performance culminated in running a record 255 miles at Taiwan’s Taipei Ultramarathon in February – though the result only held for a month before being overturned by an American rival.
A friend blamed her actions on her arrival the night before the race after traveling 48 hours from Australia, where she is now stationed.
“The race didn’t go according to plan,” Adrian Stott told the BBC. “She said she felt sick and tired during the race and wanted to quit.
“She is genuinely sorry for the upset caused.”
But the statement has cut little ice within the ultra-running community.
“We can all relate to having to quit a race, but what you don’t do is restart and cross the finish line as if you didn’t do anything wrong,” a leading participant told the Mail.
GB Ultras race director Wayne Drinkwater said the organizers have received ‘information that a runner had gained an unsportsmanlike competitive advantage during any part of the event which would have compromised the status and integrity of the results’.
He added: “The issue has been investigated and after reviewing our race tracking system data, GPX data, statements from our event team, other competitors and from the competitor himself, we can confirm that a runner has now been disqualified. the event has taken vehicle transport during part of the route.’
The saga recalls the infamous case of a marathon runner who was robbed of third place after admitting to taking a bus halfway.
Rob Sloan later claimed he had tired out at the 20 miles of the 2011 Kielder Marathon in Northumberland, and got on the free spectator bus.
He later retracted his confession, but was banned from running any more races.
Dr. Zakrzewski at the GB Ultras this month. Fellow competitors have also questioned whether her past results and records would now be scrutinized