After a humiliating defeat in Mexico's presidential election last year, Roberto Madrazo appeared to be back on top: He'd won the men's age-55 category in the Sept. 30 Berlin marathon with a surprising time of 2:41:12. But Madrazo couldn't leave his reputation for shady dealings in the dust. Race officials said Monday they disqualified him for apparently taking a short cut — an electronic tracking chip indicates he skipped two checkpoints in the race and would have needed superhuman speed to achieve his win.
According to the chip, Madrazo took only 21 minutes to cover the 15 kilometers between the 20-kilometer and 35-kilometer marks — faster than any human being can run. "Not even the world record holder can go that fast," race director Mark Milde said.
In a photograph taken as he crossed the finish line, Madrazo wears an ear-to-ear grin and pumps his arms in the air. But he also wore a wind breaker, hat and long, skintight running pants — too much clothing, some said, for a person who had just run for almost three hours in 60-degree weather.
Madrazo's outfit caught the attention of New York-based marathon photographer Victor Sailer, who alerted race organizers that they might have a cheater on their hands.
"It was so obvious to me, if you look at everyone else that's in the picture, everyone's wearing T-shirts and shorts, and the guy's got a jacket on and a hat or whatever," Sailer said. "I looked at it and was like, wait a second."
The world record for 15 kilometers is 41 minutes 29 seconds, by Felix Limo of Kenya — almost twice as Madrazo's mid-marathon time.
Soon an investigation was under way and Mexico was abuzz with jokes about how the dirty tricks that have long characterized politics here had apparently made their way to the world of international sports.
At a Mexico City taxi stand on Monday, drivers Octavio Elizalde Cerrillo and Roberto Valle Rivera poked fun at Madrazo's troubles. They, like other Mexicans their age, lived under decades of uninterrupted rule by Madrazo's Institutional Revolutionary Party, which often resorted to fraud to win elections, leaving many deeply distrustful of politicians.
"If he's a cheat at one thing, he'll cheat at anything," said Valle Rivera, 44.
"If you're going to steal, you'll steal here, in the United States, in Europe, everywhere in the world," Elizalde Cerrillo, 41, added with a smile.
Madrazo's reputation at home was already less than squeaky clean. In 1996, Mexico's attorney general confirmed reports that he had spent tens of millions of dollars more than the legal campaign spending limit in his winning 1994 bid for the Tabasco state governorship.
While under investigation on those charges, Madrazo told police he was kidnapped for seven hours, beaten and threatened with death by unidentified assailants. Police couldn't find evidence of any such abduction, and many saw it as a sympathy ploy.
During the 2006 presidential campaign, opponents plastered walls with posters reading, "Do you believe Madrazo? I don't either!"
In June, Madrazo completed the San Diego marathon with a time of 3:44:06 — more than an hour slower than his time in Berlin, Mexican newspaper Reforma reported. Madrazo's office did not return phone calls from The Associated Press.
Race director Milde noted that Madrazo may have intended to drop out and taken a shortcut to reach the start-finish area.
"I don't know if it was his intention or accidental: I try to believe in the good of people," Milde said. But the fact that Madrazo appears to be celebrating in the photograph could go against this theory, he added.
Some 32,500 people finished the race and about 40 are disqualified every year, Milde said.