Karl Meltzer Talks About His 2012 Speedgoat 50k Decision

An interview with Karl Meltzer regarding his ruling on Kilian Jornet’s switchback cutting at the 2012 Speedgoat 50k.

By on July 30, 2012 | Comments

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

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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

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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.

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.