The Santa Rosa Marathon ended in confusion and controversy instead of celebration Sunday morning with the apparent winner and second-place finisher disqualified and the official winner not revealed until three hours after the race had ended.
Ollie Ehlinger, a first-time marathoner from Sacramento, and Andrew Grant were the first two runners to finish the men's race, but Ehlinger told race officials that he may have deviated from the course. That led to lengthy discussions before race officials declared Benny Madrigal, who crossed the line third behind Ehlinger and Grant, as the winner.
The wrong turn apparently happened between miles 4 and 5 in the Prince Greenway stretch of the course. A third runner also followed Ehlinger and Grant and apparently was disqualified as well, but race officials would not identify the third runner or offer any further details about the confusion at the finish.
"I'm not going to comment on the disqualifications," said race director Orhan Sarabi. "I don't care what you write."
Sarabi did not respond to several attempts Sunday night to get clarification on the morning's events.
Race timekeeper Buzz Ayola was left to explain the long delays in identifying the official winners, a process that also led to Kristi Rossi of Hillsborough being declared the winner of the women's race 90 minutes after the race, apparently well after she had left Julliard Park.
"You want to get the results right," said Ayola. "I'd rather wait three hours and make sure we have the right winner than rush and get it wrong."
There were conflicting reports — from runners, race officials and the pacer leading the front of the pack on a bike — as to what caused the deviation from the course.
"Somebody went the wrong way," said Madrigal, the official winner. "I'm not sure what happened. There was a wrong turn taken is what some of the runners were saying."
Madrigal, 27, of Madera, was timed at 2:44:55. Rossi, 45, won the women's race in a time of 2:58:39.
As for Ehlinger, he described his thinking after his finish and his immediate plans.
"I wanted to be honest," he said in the moments after the race before knowing the outcome. "I hope I'm not disqualified. Either way, the Russian River Brewery is open at 12 and I'll be there."
The fifth edition of the Santa Rosa Marathon, which benefits Blood Centers of the Pacific, otherwise received favorable reviews from the competitors.
"It was a great race, a beautiful course," said David Berry, 22, of New York City.
"Running through the DeLoach winery was spectacular. The local fans were supportive and inspirational. It was one of the most scenic races I have ever done. It was definitely a challenge."
Said Ryan Lucker, 36, of Bakersfield, who ran his second marathon, "I like the fresh air here. It's so green here, it's awesome."