Chad Salmela, coach of the College of St. Scholastica Nordic Ski Team, probably explained it best: “It was a coupla 20-year-olds not thinking things through.”
And he knew it moments after he spotted Joe Dubay, wearing a Saints uniform, coming up Main St. in Hayward and leading Norwegian skiing legend Vegard Ulvang and four-time national champion David Chamberlain. The 21-year-old college freshman beat both to the finish of the 54K classic race.
“Joe just won the Birkebeiner,” Salmela thought, astonished. “There’s a problem here.”
Dubay wasn’t registered to ski in the American Birkebeiner.
He wore a bib registered to his St. Scholastica teammate, Chris Parr, who turned over his spot in the marathon to stay sharp for the USSA Junior Championships in early March.
Salmela told Parr to skip the Birkie. He didn’t tell him to give his bib to his teammate.
“It’s not the right thing to do,” Salmela said Monday afternoon. “It’s an ethical thing. We’re not that kind of program that gets behind something like that.”
Dubay was equally contrite.
The thrill of racing and beating a six-time Olympic medal winner vanished as soon as he saw Parr at the finish, and realized their gig was soon to be up.
“I saw Chris and his mouth was hanging open,” Dubay said. “Then I thought, ‘Oh no, I made a really big mistake here.’”
The mistake wasn’t part of a grand plan to steal a Birkie victory. It was simply that Parr couldn’t ski and Dubay could.
As Salmela pointed out, race bibs are bartered, sold on eBay and transferred in similar races across the country. That doesn’t make it right.
And winning the race makes it hard to pull off.
Because of their banditry, Dubay was disqualified, after standing on the winner’s podium and confusing race organizers.
"It doesn’t bother me that they disqualified me," Dubay said. "I understand. I agree with that. I felt bad about it, after I put two and two together.
"I was directed to go on the podium and the press conference. I felt bad through the whole thing. I shouldn’t have been up there. It was kind of difficult going through that.
“I hesitate to say I’m happy about anything,” he said. “How I felt during the race, my own performance, it’s hard not to be a little bit happy with how that went.
“But I don’t think about that too much, right now. I definitely feel bad for what happened.
“I shouldn’t have been racing under Chris’ name in the first place.”
Dubay said much the same in an interview with FasterSkier.com, which also gathered comments from David Chamberlain, a four-time national champion who moved up to first place in the Birkie Classic, with the disqualification.
A trend? After posting this piece, a reader forwarded me a similar story. Scott Downard won the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth Texas, on Sunday, but was disqualified because he hadn't registered for the race. He also was wearing a bib registered to a friend. Check it out here.