Richard Murray threw a tantrum at the finish line of Saturday’s ITU World Triathlon Hamburg. With two kilometers left to run, Murray learned that he had been assessed a 10-second penalty and would have to stand still while he watched Mario Mola run to the finish. The penalty was justified, because Murray put his wetsuit into the transition box of Gregor Buchholz in T1. The issue was how and when Murray was notified of the penalty and his reaction to it.
When an athlete is issued a penalty at an ITU race, his number is put up on a giant whiteboard next to the penalty tent to alert him of the infraction. It’s up to the athlete to recognize that he has been penalized and then choose when he wants to serve the 10-second stand down. Murray’s number was posted on the board shortly after the start of the bike, but unless athletes are aware that they made an egregious foul, they completely ignore the whiteboard throughout the race. There’s enough going on during a race of that level. Glancing up at a board and trying to find your number while riding at 30 mph in the rain is something that just doesn’t happen.
If an athlete has an infraction, typically it’s his coach or a member of his national federation that alerts him of the penalty from the sidelines. Unfortunately for Richard Murray this weekend, neither his coach, Joel Filliol, nor the two members of his national federation on site knew of the penalty or were able to alert him. Instead, he learned about the foul from his friend and training partner, Mola, as the two neared what would’ve been a great sprint finish. About halfway through the 5K run—while Murray and Mola were running side by side ahead of the rest of the field—a member of the Spanish Triathlon Federation let Mola know that Murray had incurred a penalty in T1 and would have to stand down 10 seconds before the finish.
“Mario was the one who told me about the penalty [on the run],” Murray said. “At first I was like, ‘is he trying to put me off?’ But the Spanish Federation told him.”
If you watched the live coverage, you know what happened next. Murray took his ten-second stand-down just 100 meters from the finish, while Mola cruised to yet another WTS title. During the ten seconds that he stood in the penalty tent, Murray repeatedly asked the ITU Technical Official what he had done wrong, but he received no response. As soon as he left the tent, he gave the universal sign for “up yours” to no one in particular, and then slapped a sign for the races’ title sponsor (Hamburg Wasser), before crossing the line in second place.
“I lost my cool as I ran towards the finish and did something I probably will regret, but hey, I was in the heat of the moment and very pissed off,” Murray said after the race. “I got [disqualified] for unsportsmanlike behavior, but I was not being unsportsmanlike to anyone really. I just did it in general at the world and event, really.”
Within a few seconds of crossing the line, Murray was given an earful from World Triathlon Series Director Kris Gemmell, and a few minutes later he was notified that that he had been disqualified by race referee Paul Groves.
The ITU issued the following statement regarding Murray’s DQ: “After making an inappropriate gesture to Technical Officials on the field of play following a 10-second penalty, Richard Murray was disqualified from World Triathlon Hamburg for unsportsmanlike conduct. The disqualification was made by the race referee.”
Richard Murray messed up. He made a gesture that was absolutely inappropriate, and then he smacked a sign of one of the ITU’s longest-running sponsors at one of their longest-running events. Those were two big mistakes. But he still finished the race in second place, and would’ve finished this weekend ranked second in the WTS rankings.
By disqualifying Murray from this race, he lost $12,000 (USD) from this race alone and potentially another $30,000 to $50,000 from the end of the year WTS bonuses. That’s not to mention whatever bonuses he has worked into his sponsors’ contracts.
I have no idea how much money he’ll make this year, but I’d guess that this DQ cost him at least 20 percent of his annual income. That’d be like an NFL quarterback getting fined $5 million for one (somewhat) obscene gesture. Murray didn’t even raise his middle finger. A similar gesture in any other sport would’ve resulted in a penalty (technical foul, personal foul, yellow card, etc…) and a fine of one or two percent of the athletes’ salary.
“I do tend to have moments of rage,” Murray said shortly after the race. “I guess that this will have some negative implications, but I think it would be nice if the penalty was communicated to the athletes … Only fair I think.”
Murray overreacted for sure, but I can’t blame him for being so heated in the middle of running a five-minute mile. The bigger overreaction was on the part of the race referee for disqualifying him. In any other sport, he would’ve been given a fine and possibly a deduction in points. That would’ve been the appropriate punishment for Murray’s crime.