Karl Meltzer Talks About His 2012 Speedgoat 50k Decision

Speedgoat 50k race director Karl Meltzer faced a difficult decision when Kilian Jornet was found to be cutting switchbacks – a nearly universal rule in American trail races that have marked routes – at Karl’s race. Below, Karl tells why, exactly, he had a tough decision to make and why he made the decision he did. Following that interview is video of the award ceremony during which Karl also offered an explanation of his decision beginning at the 2:50 mark.

[Update: We’ve not published the International Skyrunning Federation’s response.]

Karl Meltzer Post-2012 Speedgoat 50k Interview

[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]

Karl Meltzer Post-2012 Speedgoat 50k Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Bryon Powell here at the finish line of the Speedgoat 50k with Karl [Meltzer, Race Director]. Karl, you were put in a tough spot today. Tell us what put you in the tough spot.

Karl Meltzer: Today was an incredibly tough spot. We had a great competitive field at the race this year. It was panning out exactly how it was supposed to pan out. Kilian Jornet and Ricky Gates were in the front, chasing the leaders up front. Rickey beat Kilian to the top, and that was great; everything was running out great. What happened though, along the route, I was descending into Mineral Basin myself, Kilian was in the lead briefly, and he cut a switchback. That was the first time we saw it happen. Ok, one little thing, no big deal. He continued on the course and he continued to cut switchbacks randomly throughout the route. There were a lot of visuals from our volunteers that saw it. So now I’m thinking, “Well, what do I do now? Do I disqualify him? Do I just let it ride?” Every other runner, not exactly every other runner, Ricky Gates who was right behind him was a little ticked off. He wasn’t liking it very much. So Ricky followed the route; he stayed on course. For Ricky, it was a closed course. As they headed into Mineral Basin, I don’t know how many switchbacks Kilian cut. I couldn’t see. But as he left Larry’s Hole he cut a few more. He was told at mile 20 that he was not supposed to cut switchbacks. Then he did it again descending Little Cloud Bowl into the finish line. So now here I am in this tough position to say, “How do I monitor this? What do I do? Do I disqualify Kilian Jornet? Do I just let it ride?”

So what I did… Kilian ended up crossing the finish line first in 5:14, which is ridiculously fast. Rickey Gates was 5:18 and change. I told Kilian when he initially crossed the line, “Hey, I may have to disqualify you because of cutting the course.” Kilian is a very gracious athlete and he said, “Yes, it’s ok. I understand. It’s ok.” I was pretty psyched about that. He was really gracious. He’s a great kid, because I’m old. At the same time, I waited a little while to decide what the final decision would be. I talked to 10 to 20 people. I got their insight and input. The most important input I got was probably was something that Pikes Peak did years ago when a few Europeans came over and they cut corners. I don’t know if they technically won the race, but they cut the corners. They didn’t disqualify them, but what they did do is they didn’t pay them the prize money. I said, “You know what? That’s probably a reasonably fair thing to do.”

To be honest with you, I hated to do this. I hate to be in this position. Some people will think I’m a bad guy for the decision that I made, but honestly, I think it was kind of the right decision. I couldn’t say “DQ. You’re out. Done. See ya next year maybe? Maybe not.” I really want this race to continue as a Skyrunning race. I want it to continue. I made the ultimate decision of going with what Pikes Peak did, and we paid Rickey Gates as the winner. Rickey also beat Kilian to the top, so he gets $1,000 bonus. He was also under the record. So Ricky gets $4,000, and, unfortunately, Kilian doesn’t get any money. I still gave Kilian Jornet the win, because as a Skyrunning Series program, I really want to keep that. I don’t want to diss him out on that whole thing. That’s kind of how they race in Europe and in all the other races, so I let that ride.

Kilian, again, was a very gracious athlete. He’s a really cool guy. Rickey felt good about it. A lot of the other spectators that know what my decision was, they thought that was good. Ultimately, the bottom line is that Rickey Gates will get the course record, technically the course record, because he followed the course. Again, it’s such a hard decision to make. Kilian was very gracious about it. So it is what it is.

iRF: Thank you for explaining it all. There are a lot of curious people out there. It was a hard decision. But overall, what an incredible day here at Snowbird!

Meltzer: It was an incredible race. Speedgoat 50k—nobody got lost, everybody stayed on track. It was a close race up front. Six guys went under the previous record and by a fair amount. It was a hot day. Kilian even mentioned, too, if it’s cloudy and if it were slightly raining, we’re talking 4:50. We’re talking under 5 hours on this course? It’s pretty darn fast.

I think the one thing I will change next year is I will make it a point to say that you cannot cut switchbacks in this race. If I say that and it happens again, then there will just be a straight up DQ, because I’ve said it and it will be up on the website of course. This year it wasn’t on the website. The first thing to do was to check if I put that on there, and I didn’t. So then I had to make this decision. I think I made the right one. And if some people don’t like that, well, that’s ultrarunning. That’s what it is.

iRF: Thanks for putting on a great race and dealing with a hard situation well.

Meltzer: It was a great race. It was fun.

iRF: Now let’s have some beers.

Meltzer: This is a good one.

iRF: This, I’m hiding because it’s not so good. Taproom.

Meltzer: Thanks for dropping this by. Bottoms up.

2012 Speedgoat 50k Awards Ceremony

[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]

2012 Speedgoat 50k Awards Ceremony Transcript

Karl Meltzer: First, I want to explain a couple things that happened here. Our fastest guy that finished—Killian Jornet—is very gracious and is over here. Kilian cut a few of the switchbacks and cut some corners, and in Europe that’s how we race… how they race over in Europe. So it’s a really hard decision for me how to play the awards on this one.

I did not disqualify Kilian. I could have for not following all of the course. I did not disqualify him. But what I did is… I can’t really award him the money, because he didn’t really stay on the course. But being part of the World Skyrunning Series, we wanted to keep that all together and stuff. So what we’re going to do is have two first place winners here. I know I’m going to get some flack for some of this; some will like it, some will not, but that’s how it is. It was a hard decision. You know, I don’t know. Anyway, we’ll take it from there.

There are 86 comments

  1. Mic

    This is sad. This isn't adventure racing where you can cut the trail (at your own risk) and read the rules very very carefully to get an advantage. Never in a race have I thought it was ok to cut the course. If there is a mud hole with 2 paths on either side, I'll take the shortest path but that's about it.

    It's likely intellectual dishonesty on Killian's part and a disregard/disrepect for the course marshalls warning him. Not only that but he eroded the course, eeek – he hurt the planet. :)

    But really.

    I wonder how Killian would do at The Barkley 100. I dare Killian to run the Barkley 100.


    1. Brian

      "Run" the Barkley? More like a death march up and down the hillsides. He would probably be pretty good there though…

  2. Zudnik

    I think Karl did a great job given the position he found himself in. Way to go Kilian as well for saying ok, I understand. His enthusiasm is refreshing.

    1. Zudnik

      oh, and most importantly – Thanks Bryon for keeping us updated. You keep us well informed and posting up info like this is a great service. Weather folks agree with what Karl did, don't like what Kilian did, or feel slighted for Ricky etc. You're posting it up and letting us read it. So at least we're more informed. Thanks.

  3. mayayo

    May I copy/paste it again, as some people may have missed the point:

    UTMB RULES >> ATTENTION: if you can not see any more markers, retrace your steps!

    With respect for the environment no paint will be used on the paths.

    It is imperative that you follow the paths with the markers without taking short cuts. In effect, short cutting the paths leads to erosion which damages the site”

    Once again, I insist: it is definitely not the European way to take short cuts :D

  4. Fly By Night

    Cutting a course is cheating in my book. I don't care if it's 'accepted' elsewhere in the world or not. It's dishonest and ignoble and goes against the spirit of the sport.

    However, I think Karl made a good decision in this instance.

    Respect for Karl goes up.

    Respect for Kilian goes down, way down.

  5. Gordon Wright

    We ran into this at the first Gore-Tex TransRockies run: Europeans cutting switchbacks. It's a cultural thing, and after informing them of American customs, they largely complied. As for Karl, I think he made an elegant and appropriate decision that satisfied all concerned.

  6. Wyatt Hornsby

    Elite European ultrarunners, like American elites, will go to whatever races offer cash. Speedgoat obviously has cash, so, even if Karl had DQ'd Kilian, I'll bet our friends on the other side of the pond will still be lining up at next year's Speedgoat to get a shot at Mr. Green. And who can blame them?

    It's easy to Monday Morning Quarterback this deal to death. The fact of the matter is that Karl gave his decision a ton of thought. And he had the wisdom and humility to seek input from others, as he states in his interview with Bryon. He didn't make a knee-jerk decision; he talked with others and ultimately made the best decision he could using the information he had.

  7. Patrick McKenna

    Based on the interview only, it sounds to me like Karl didn't do what he felt in his heart was right/fair. He did what he thought was best for his event's future.

    P.S. It would have been nice if KJ demanded that he be DQ'd to take the pressure off of Karl.

  8. Kokolo

    I think the main issue was that the rule wasn't estated in the Speedgoat rules and that's why Karl couldn't DQ Kilian, why?? If it wasn't written anywhere.

    Although I understand it was a tough decission, looking at the award ceremony with Kilian staring at Ricky getting all the credits, was quite ridiculous.

  9. Brian Robinson

    Agreed. IMO "pretty good" is an understatement. I think he'd make the rest of us look silly. I'd dearly love to see what he could do there.

  10. Jeff Blackwell

    I think Karl was overly gracious on his decision. Kilian has now raced in the US for several years & as far as I know (with the exception of maybe, Barkley) most, if not all, races in this country are on a closed course & with this being the normal. Should have been DQ, esp. if he continued to cut switchbacks after being warned.

Post Your Thoughts