Having been the first woman to cross the finish line at the GO! St. Louis Marathon, Kendall Schler received the glory others had hoped to enjoy.
She was photographed with Jackie Joyner-Kersee on Sunday morning and stood to collect the $1,500 first prize. She also had improved her time from her third-place finish in 2014, a mark that was good enough to qualify for next week’s Boston Marathon.
But by Wednesday, officials had determined Schler did not run the marathon in downtown St. Louis either year. She is believed to have slipped onto the course after the last checkpoint in an attempt to fool race officials into believing she ran the entire 26.2 miles. Officials said that Schler did not register any times on the route, and that a review of last year’s marathon photos failed to turn up images of her on the course.
As a result, her times have been erased, her spot in Boston vacated and she will no longer be allowed to run in the local organization’s events.
“It’s a difficult situation for everybody, including the people who run a fair race and don’t get the recognition they should receive,” said Nancy Lieberman, president of GO! St. Louis. “I said to her, ‘It looks like you perpetrated a fraud.’ I have nothing legitimate that says she officially started and ran 26.2 miles in 2014 or 2015.”
Lieberman said incidents of dishonest runners happened but called this “an extreme case.”
In 1979, Rosie Ruiz used the public transit system to cut some of the distance from the New York Marathon. She was exposed as a cheat after she crossed the finish line first in Boston several months later, in 1980.
Andrea Karl, a doctoral candidate at Washington University, was the winner here Sunday, with a time of 2 hours, 54 minutes and 28 seconds. But she crossed the finish line without much notice and was told another woman had won.
Lieberman said it was believed Schler had pulled the same trick last year, when she was credited with a third-place finish. Schler could not be reached for comment.
When Schler finished in 2014, officials manually entered a time of 3:13.04. The qualifying time for Boston in Schler’s age group is 3:35.00, and she was entered to run in the world’s best-known marathon this coming Monday.
As part of her investigation, Lieberman reviewed last year’s marathon photos. She didn’t find any of Schler, who lives in Columbia, Mo. They talked by phone Wednesday, Lieberman said.
“I said, ‘I’m going to disqualify you in 2014 unless you provide me photos of you along the course,’ ” Lieberman said. “I told her if she showed me photos within two hours I’d consider not disqualifying her.”
That didn’t happen, and Schler’s name was removed Thursday from the Boston Marathon’s online list of entrants. Lieberman said that nothing about Schler’s story made sense. She had her bib and number on her leg, contrary to marathon guidelines, and covered by a shirt. She told Lieberman she had removed the timing strip from the bib in each of the last two years.
The course has seven spots where that strip records a time — the starting line, the finish and five spots within the course. Lieberman said she did not register a time at any spot. A Post-Dispatch photograph shows Schler on the Eads Bridge early in the race.
The bicyclist who rides beside the female leader finished with Karl on Sunday. Lieberman checked with U.S. Track and Field officials on the course.
“They’re situated in specific places so that people can’t cheat and jump on at other times,” Lieberman said. “They didn’t see (Schler) anywhere on the course.”
Lieberman’s theory is that Schler might have miscalculated her entry onto the course, not knowing she had placed herself at the front of the pack.
Lieberman said she was disappointed for Karl, who did not have photos taken at the finish line as the winner typically does. It wasn’t until about 20 minutes after she finished that she knew she won.
So, when Runner’s World magazine called to request a photo of Karl, GO! St. Louis did not have one of her running.
“There’s a euphoria the winner gets, breaking the tape and having the crowd cheer,” Lieberman said. “The true winner did everything right and didn’t get her due.”