Archdeacon: A stumble at the finish line

Air Force Marathon men’s half-marathon winner John Mascari: ‘The whole thing was weird’

FAIRBORN – As John Mascari broke through the banner stretched across the finish line and won the Air Force Half Marathon on Saturday, I got a picture of him, as did some of the real photographers who stood just a few yards back from the end of the 13.1-mile course.

The 30-year-old Mascari – a former Indiana State University star and current Adidas rep from Westfield, Ind. – soon had the marathon medal draped over his neck by a waiting airman tasked with the honor.

After that he was met by Paul Chelimo, the marquee name at this year’s marathon.

A Kenyan refugee who starred at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and then joined the U.S. Army, he’s won two Olympic medals for U.S. in the 5,000 meters: silver at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and bronze at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

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He was a keynote speaker this year and unofficially ran the half marathon as a pacer for, it turned out, Mascari.

Though his time would go unrecorded, Chelimo finished in 1 hour, 7.12 minutes, beating the Air Force half-marathon record (1:07.17) set eight years ago.

Mascari’s winning time was 1:09.2 and, after toweling off, he was interviewed by another reporter and me and talked briefly about how tough the course was with its hills and how much he liked the military environment of the race.

And then he waited ... and waited ... and waited.

And nothing.

He was not told about the awards ceremony with Air Force brass that would soon occur.

In fact, race officials didn’t talk to him at all after that.

Instead, all attention was turned to Jason Bruns, the former Tippecanoe High School and Wright State, All-Horizon League running star, who is now an accountant for the Hobart company in Troy.

Although he finished five minutes behind Mascari, he was congratulated by race officials who told him he was the half-marathon winner.

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At first, he doubted that and said he told them so.

“At the beginning of the half marathon, there were two guys who took off,” he recounted Monday. “One was Paul Chelimo, the Olympic silver medalist. I didn’t know the other guy who went with him.

“It’s typical professional runners won’t actually enter the race and don’t finish.

“When I got done, I figured I potentially got third place because those other two had been way out there.

“But a few minutes after I finished, people started telling me I’d won, and they told me about the awards ceremony.”

As this was going on, I mentioned to three different race officials, including race director Rachael Ferguson, that something was amiss.

I said Mascari – bib No. 4219 – had won and that I had a photo of it and couple of us had interviewed him.

The officials said they’d check into it and soon after one told me that Bruns was the winner.

“It was all kind of strange, but they kept telling me I’d won,” Bruns said.

His wife and two small children were overjoyed. And later marathon winner Jason Salyer, Bruns’s lifelong friend who’s also from Tipp City and was a groomsman in his wedding, shared in the celebratory embrace.

At the awards ceremony, Bruns was announced as the winner, brought on stage and given an impressive plaque before posing for photos race and military officials.

Meanwhile, Mascari unceremoniously headed for the parking lot.

“I didn’t even know they had an awards ceremony,” he said Monday. “We hung around a little bit and then just left.”

Later when he searched the marathon webpage, he found “my name and time weren’t even in the results. It said I was at the 10K and it didn’t update where I’d been throughout the race.

“I’m thinking the tracker got messed up.

“I wasn’t worried so much about a plaque or anything, I was just wanting to make sure a decent time got posted so I could use it to get into other races.”

He had taken much of the past three years off. Some of it had to do with COVID cancelling races for a year, but he said he also got married and had settled into his job as a Midwestern rep for Adidas.

“Life kind of got in the way,” he said.

Then, with a pause and some thought, he made a marital-bliss amendment:

“I meant that in a good way ... with the marriage and all.”

Late Saturday afternoon, Bruns checked the Air Force website and saw a brief recap of races and a quote by Mascari about his victory.

He then went to the official results, but Mascari still was not listed.

Finally, late Saturday, the results were changed, and he saw he was now listed as finishing second and Mascari was the winner.

After some searching, he found contact information for Mascari.

“It kind of felt like it was stolen valor,” Bruns said. “I hadn’t known at the time, but I apologized and said I wanted to make it right.”

Mascari appreciated that: “He messaged me and said, ‘Hey, I have your award.’

“He told me he told them he hadn’t won, but that the race directors told him, ‘Yeah you did.’”

As of late Monday afternoon, Mascari said he still hasn’t heard anything from the marathon race officials.

As for how all this happened, Ferguson still wasn’t quite sure Monday afternoon:

“Scoring was there when the first person came across, so they should have gotten him.

“But quite honestly, when all that was going on there were several things happening and at one point (two associates) told me it was OK. And I haven’t heard any more.

“I’m not real sure, but I thought it had been fixed. So, as long as everybody feels like we’re squared away on it correctly now, hopefully we’re good.”

In the meantime, the two runners who finished five minutes apart Saturday, were in perfect side-by-side stride Monday:

“The whole thing was weird,” Mascari said. “Just strange.”

Bruns agreed.

Speaking for them both, Mascari added:

“I just didn’t know what was going on Saturday.”

A lot folks didn’t.

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