Masters Athlete and Olympian DQ for Spitting

These are strange and strict times indeed as we return to racing through this Covid19 pandemic, and it is of course crucial we try and maintain levels where ever possible to keep it at bay, and it seems a fellow Masters Athlete has fallen at the hurdle during competition.

Story as below:

Robbie Johnston was not within spitting distance of a rival when he crossed the finish line at the Athletics New Zealand Cross-Country Challenge on Saturday.

But the former Olympic long-distance runner was warming down after a convincing triumph in the masters men’s 50-54 age group when he was told he had been disqualified for spitting during the race in Dunedin.

The 53-year-old said he was told he had been seen spitting twice on the Chisholm Links course during the 8-kilometre race.

“I was the only person on the whole day to be disqualified out of 300-plus people,” a bemused Johnston told Stuff.

“I thought it was a bit of a joke in the end.”

Because the event was being held under alert level 2 guidelines during the Covid-19 pandemic, competitors had guidelines from Athletics New Zealand which included: “While racing, please avoid spitting or discharging mucus from your nose in view of others or close to other competitors. Anyone deemed to be spitting in an offensive manner could be disqualified.”

Athletics NZ confirmed Johnston was disqualified as per the Information for Attendees but wouldn’t comment on the issue.

“Apparently you are meant to get a yellow card then a red card – I never got any warning or anything when I was out there,” Johnston said.

“I thought they were pulling my leg at first.

“I don’t know if I was [spitting] or not – usually I wouldn’t be spitting anything.”

Johnston, who represented NZ at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games, said he saw people “having a bit of a spit before a race. I thought it was a bit of overkill to be fair – to be making an example of someone.”

Robbie Johnston contesting the men's 10,000m at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Robbie Johnston contesting the men’s 10,000m at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Unofficially, Johnston was first across the line in the masters men’s 50-54 age group in 30 minutes and seven seconds – with Canterbury’s Robert Howell next-best in 31m 48s.

“I saw later in the results that the only others with a warning [for spitting] were all in the same grade.”

The event was scheduled to run as the 2020 national cross-country championships but had to be downgraded with Auckland athletes unable to travel to compete.

“It is not like super serious or anything but it put a bit of a dampener on it. I might be the first person in history to be disqualified from a race for spitting.

“I would be highly unlikely to be participating if I had any sickness, let alone Covid, ‘cos I would not have been capable of being out there doing that.”

Johnston said he felt more aggrieved later in the weekend.

“I was watching the Warriors and after Roger Tuivasa-Sheck scored one of his tries, he was having a couple of hoicks walking back to halfway and you think, there is probably more of an impact on a football game when you are getting tackled and all that.”