Mexican furore as politician is caught cheating in marathon

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The Independent US

During his long political career, Roberto Madrazo has never quite known what it is like to taste the ultimate victory. The Mexican stood for election as president last year as a candidate of the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), only to finish a distant third with 22 per cent of the vote.

So when the 55-year-old career politician crossed the finish line of the Berlin Marathon last week in a remarkable two hours, 40 minutes and 57 seconds, it looked at first sight like something of a personal vindication. His time – just 36 minutes slower than the world record – was good enough to place him 146th out of the 40,000-plus entrants, and first among those aged 55 or over. A video recording at the end of the 26-mile course showed him looking ecstatic and remarkably relaxed, dressed in a red tracksuit top and black sweatpants.

But back home Mr Madrazo's critics smelled something fishy, largely because his time over the distance was 57 minutes faster than his previous best, recorded at the London Marathon in April. Fishier still was the fact that he appeared to go missing for a large portion of the middle of the race.

Every entrant had been fitted with a microchip to record their arrival at five-kilometre intervals along the course. Mr Madrazo ran the first 20km – almost half the course – in one hour, 42 minutes and 42 seconds, which would have put him on track to match or marginally better his London performance. However, he then vanished off the tracking screens, only to re-appear at the 35km marker just a short distance from the finish. It may be coincidental, but the course map shows that the two points at either end of Mr Madrazo's lost run are just a short trot from each other down Potsdamer Strasse, between the Turkish doner kebab stalls of Kreuzberg and one of the more striking remnants of the Berlin Wall near Potsdamer Platz. This week, the Mexican newspaper Reforma, which has been writing compromising articles about Mr Madrazo and his party for years, began digging deep into the marathon mystery and came out openly to accuse him of cheating. On Thursday, the paper's front-page made a barbed reference to a notorious episode in Mexican politics 19 years ago – in which a PRI politician similarly claimed victory in the face of "a computer glitch".

During the 1988 presidential election, the PRI's candidate Carlos Salinas de Gortari was trailing opponent Cuauhtemoc Cardenas when the PRI-led government suddenly announced that the computerised voting system had malfunctioned. Mr Salinas de Gortari was declared the winner a week later. Thursday's Reforma headline echoed a famous opposition rallying cry from 1988: "The system goes down, Madrazo wins."

Reforma has always suspected that Mr Madrazo is no better than the generations of corrupt PRI politicians who preceded him. On the eve of last year's election, it presented evidence that he owned a luxury penthouse in Miami, three luxury flats in Mexico City and a fleet of fancy cars worth a total of $1.5m – far more than a career politician in Mexico could reasonably expect to buy with his salary.

Mr Madrazo denied any wrongdoing but his campaign collapsed and the PRI recorded its worst-ever showing in the polls.