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Tori Gerlach came in fifth overall, first place in the women’s division, at the Phoenix 5K Turkey Trot this year, in 16:19. That should have been a promising start to a festive day ahead, but instead, she was temporarily disqualified from the results.
Why? It seemed as though the race organizers either had technical difficulties with the timing system or the race director simply didn’t believe that two women (Nicole Lane was seventh overall and second woman in 16:29) could place so well in the field.
After Gerlach finished the race, she was in a hurry to leave, so she headed to the officials’ table and realized her name wasn’t in the results.
“I went over to a woman who was sitting at the timing table, and when I told her that I thought I won, she asked if I ran a time of 16 minutes,” Gerlach said. “She acknowledged that another girl and I ran in the 16s, and that the race director didn’t think that was correct. She said, ‘He just disqualified you guys.’”
Gerlach, 27, asked to speak to the director, Chris Giles. When trying to get to the bottom of the disqualification, she was told by volunteers that Giles had asked whether she and Lane were “lean or athletic-looking enough” to perform so well.
Was it chauvinism or an honest mistake? Giles said the timing system didn’t record Gerlach’s start, so he disqualified her. He also said that he addressed her concerns and corrected the mistake when Gerlach inquired at the results table.
Gerlach, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, recalls it differently. She said Giles never offered an apology and refused to talk to her. She left the race empty-handed (no prize money was on the line—just a plaque).
“I wish I’d said more in the moment. When I started sitting with it and telling people about it, I realized that it was kind of messed up,” Gerlach said, adding that she wished she had the chance to turn it into a teachable moment about how women are capable of impressive results—and perhaps why nobody should make judgments based on body type.
For his part, Giles said that he intentionally put Gerlach’s results on hold so that he could look up her past results and verify. Gerlach competed in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials and has a 15:58 best in the 5,000 meters. But Gerlach wonders why Giles continued to give out the other awards if he hadn’t verified the top times. Also, while Giles addressed Gerlach’s DNF (blaming it on the timing malfunction at the start), he didn’t offer an explanation for why Lane was disqualified as well.
Gerlach has since received her plaque in the mail, and said she is trying to focus on an upcoming sponsorship deal (she is a former member of the Reebok Boston Track Club—she joined after graduating from Penn State University, where she was a two-time Big Ten champion in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters).
As for the great turkey trot kerfuffle, Gerlach thinks maybe the entire circumstance could have been avoided had the race director just acknowledged his error. On the other hand, maybe publicly sharing this one example of how sexism still exists in big and small ways in the sport, in fact, has become that teachable moment for others.
“You can make mistakes, “ Gerlach said, “but how you handle them says a lot.”