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Murphy's Law

A Long Running Feud

By Austin Murphy

  Click for larger image "Upon crossing the finish line," Karnazes wrote, "I was pronounced the first and only person in history to ever run a marathon to the South Pole."  Kristoffer Erickson
It is a tangled web, a farrago of charges and countercharges that boils down, some 17 months after the first South Pole Marathon, to this: ANI picked the wrong guy to stiff.

Readers of this section may recall Richard Donovan, an Irishman who in 2002 appeared to have won the inaugural South Pole Marathon (SI, April 29, 2002) after completing the race in eight hours and 52 minutes -- almost 27 minutes ahead of runner-up Dean Karnazes. Immediately after the race the frostbitten, snow-blind Donovan was declared the winner in a news release sent out by Adventure Network International, the Florida-based company that had put on the event and promised $25,000 to the winner.

This is where we step through the looking glass. The day after the race, ANI backtracked. Donovan, 36, an economist from Galway, was declared the winner of the "snowshoe division," Karnazes, 38, the winner of the "runners" division. The problem was, no mention of any such divisions had been made before the event. Competitors were free to race with snowshoes (as Donovan did) or without them (as Karnazes did).

To Donovan, the whole thing smelled. In addition to sponsoring Karnazes, The North Face was a sponsor of the marathon. ANI's marathon coordinator in Antarctica was Doug Stoup, who has been sponsored by The North Face on various expeditions and was dating ANI president Anne Kershaw. In an affidavit Dr. Duncan Gray, the marathon's physician, testified that "several hours after the conclusion of the event.... [Stoup] asked for my advice on a problem he had, this being that he needed to find a way to make Mr. Karnazes the winner of the race but wanted to keep all of the other competitors happy." The good doctor replied that Donovan had "obviously won the race, and it was inappropriate to attempt to alter the results."

The confusion, according to Kershaw, began after dreadful weather conditions convinced the runners to cancel the race and run to the Pole as a group, for safety reasons. Along the route, however, the group became increasingly competitive and split up; the race was back on. At the finish, with the racers -- mostly Donovan and Karnazes -- arguing over what exactly they had agreed upon before the run, the divisions were created, says Kershaw, "to be fair to everyone." Two weeks later, after returning to Ireland, Donovan received a call from Kershaw, who informed him that he, like the four other entrants in the run, would receive $3,000.

If Kershaw had hoped Donovan would simply go away, she misjudged him. "I wasn't going to win a race by half an hour and be told I didn't win it," he says. Donovan had dedicated the race to his mother, Mary, who'd died in the summer of 2000 of heart failure. In running seven races on seven continents in one calendar year, he was raising money for two of Mary's favorite charities. In his view, ANI was taking money from those charities.

As much as he was offended by ANI's invention of a snowshoe division -- "The implication was that I'd won dishonestly, that some flying carpet whisked me over the ice," he says -- Donovan was dumbfounded by an article Karnazes posted on an ultramarathon website a few weeks after the race. "Upon crossing the finish line," Karnazes wrote, "I was pronounced the first and only person in history to ever run a marathon to the South Pole." Not long after he pointed out the article's inaccuracies to The North Face, Donovan received a letter from Karnazes in which he informed the Irishman that he'd contacted the U.S. State Department. "At issue," he wrote, "is a non-U.S. resident acting aggressively, and potentially with malicious intent, toward a U.S. citizen."

"To me," says Donovan, "that was his way of saying, 'I'm going to muzzle you, boy.'"

No such luck. Last October, Donovan filed suit against ANI in British Columbia (though based in Florida, ANI is registered in B.C.), demanding that he be paid the full $25,000. ANI was given until April 15 to provide a statement of defense. The company declined -- for business reasons, says Kershaw -- and the Supreme Court of British Columbia awarded Donovan all outstanding prize money, plus interest and legal fees.

Ten weeks after the South Pole Marathon, Donovan was sucking wind at the other end of the world. He became the first person to run marathons at both poles. He succeeded in his quest to run seven ultras on seven continents, winning three of them and raising about $23,500 in pledges. If you told Donovan you would sponsor him, take our advice and write him a check today. You don't want to stiff this guy.

The author, an incorrigible outdoor sports junkie and Sports Illustrated senior writer, muses on sundry subjects adventure-related.

Issue date: June 16, 2003

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