The athletic life of the 38-year-old marathoner Camilo Santiago, a Murcian from Molina de Segura living in Albelda de Iregua (Rioja), can be summarized in two numbers, the one that a friend offered him for a half marathon when he was 29 years old and the lent him another friend to run a marathon on his behalf. In between, nine years of dreams that ended in nightmare, a best time of 2h 9m 56s (Valencia, 2020) that left the fans with their mouths open, an Olympic minimum, a present without sponsors or club, like so many athletes suffocated by the crisis and the pandemic, trainings in Zaragoza with José Luis Mareca and sporadic participation in television programs such as The wheel of luck to get income.
The first number meant for him the abandonment of football and a life of tobacco and parties and the late start of his career as an athlete; the second, perhaps, the end, the disgrace of the world of athletics and a possible sanction for impersonation and deception. And, incidentally, the Honduran national record for a 48-hour marathon for a 37-year-old from Barcelona named Iván Zarco Álvarez, Honduran since January 1, 2020 by virtue of his father’s marriage.
It all happened last Sunday, March 21, in the Dresden marathon (Germany), a test with about 40 participants organized to give the opportunity to achieve the Olympic minimum to athletes without it and not only does it not pay the participants or give prizes, but it also charges for the registration and the number. Zarco, with a best marathon mark of 2h 21m 41s achieved five years ago, needs to go down from 2h 18m to get the minimum reserved for developing countries, such as Honduras, which have the right to a representative in Tokyo, and asks his friend Santiago may be your hare in the German race. He pays for the plane ticket to Frankfurt, the hotel room and the registration for the race, 125 euros. But shortly before starting the race, Zarco announces that his feet hurt, that he suffers from plantar fasciitis and that what an annoyance to have to give up the race, at the minimum, to Tokyo, with all that he had invested in it, what misery, why doesn’t he participate with his bib, in his name, and thus save the trip.
Compassionate, and so tells his manager, Miguel Mostaza (Santiago has not responded to any of the numerous calls made), Santiago accepts. He runs the marathon with the number 450, and the surnames Zarco Álvarez clearly visible under the number, and he does it so well that he finishes seventh with a time of 2h 17m 46s. The organization, oblivious to a prohibited exchange of numbers, publishes the results and announces: with that time, Zarco has also broken the record of Honduras. And on its Facebook page, the Honduran federation proclaims it and congratulates itself: “The athlete Iván Zarco makes history again by breaking the marathon record, previously held by Clovis Morales.”
Both return to Barcelona so calm, but the calm lasts less than 48 hours, the time it takes to Web soycorredor.es to discover the change and publish it. Santiago did not take long to offer an explanation, even more complicated, and more incredible, than the true story. He said on Twitter that half an hour before the marathon they stole his backpack with his clothes and the number and that Zarco, who was not going to run due to his injury, lent him his clothes and his number, and that through a volunteer they reported it to the organization, and it accepted.
Mustard, who understands the needs that his athlete goes through, but does not apologize at any time for his action, then asks him that taking into account that he was registered for the Siena marathon on April 11, what need did he have to run in Dresden, especially when his friend was not running, and what need he even had to finish the 42,195 kilometers. Santiago replies that his coach had scheduled him a long run and that he was so comfortable that he decided to finish.
All their explanations are undone shortly after when the organization reports that at no time before the test neither of the two marathoners informed them of the theft and the use of one by another’s number, and that they only received an email from Santiago on Tuesday in the morning, just after the news of the change was published in soycorredor.es. He immediately changed his classification and Iván Zarco went from being seventh to being disqualified.
The Spanish federation, by which both athletes are federated, has requested official information on the race and has passed it on to its competition committee to open an information file in case the unsportsmanlike conduct may be punishable. At the same time, the Athletics Integrity Unit of the international federation has opened another file. There is no proof or indication that he received any payment in exchange for the favor to Zarco. Nor does it seem likely that Santiago will be able to run on the 11th in Siena, much less that he will be able to participate representing Spain in the Tokyo Games.