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10 Years Later Buzunesh Deba Is Still Waiting For Prize Money From 2014 Boston Marathon

The BAA cites Rita Jeptoo has yet to repay the prize money following her disqualification.

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At the 2014 Boston Marathon, Buzunesh Deba had the run of a lifetime.

Clocking 2:19:59, Deba had come up just short and settled for second place on the day, finishing just over a minute behind Rita Jeptoo.

In 2016, after the 2014 Boston Marathon was likely well out of her daily thoughts, Deba received a call from a friend.

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Jeptoo, the winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon, had been disqualified for doping. 

Boston Athletics Association (BAA) organizers soon confirmed the news to Deba through email: She was, in fact, a Boston Marathon champion.

Alongside being promoted to first place, Deba would also earn the winner’s prize money and a bonus for setting a new course record (which still stands today).

The difference between first and second place amounted to $75,000, and the course record bonus was set at $25,000 for the 2014 race, for a total award of $100,000.

$100,000 is quite a decent payday, but $100,000 is an even better payday in 2014. Taking into account inflation, that $100,000 would be worth about $133,000 today in 2024.

Unfortunately, ten years after her Boston triumph and eight years after the email that changed her life, Deba has yet to see any of the additional prize money.

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The BAA cites that the delay in distributing Deba’s winnings is due to the inability to recover the original prize money given to Jeptoo. “As the matter is still ongoing, we are unable to comment further at this time,” a spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal. 

The regulations set out by the governing body World Athletics, then known as the IAAF, states that prize money awarded to an ineligible athlete, Jeptoo in this case, can only be redistributed to the rightful winner, Deba here, “if and when all the forfeited prize money has been repaid by the Ineligible Athlete to the relevant person or entity.”

Jeptoo’s current agent said via text message that he was not aware of the financial situation surrounding the 2014 Boston Marathon, as he only began representing her this year.

Although Deba and her husband, Worku Beyi, have grown close with the BAA organizers, she and her husband are frustrated because they have been left in limbo over a significant amount of money for so many years.

Deba said, “They treat us like family,” with her husband stating, “It’s not small money, the money we lost.”

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The couple started emailing BAA officials shortly after the news broke in 2016 regarding her additional remuneration. They also pressed BAA organizers in person in 2017.

Beyi said the response from the BAA was always the same: “We are working on it,” and even suggested that the couple avoid speaking to the media about the situation.

The couple shared that the extra prize money would grant them and their young family greater financial security. Deba and Beyi, who both grew up in Ethiopia, now live in the Bronx with their two children.

Interestingly, the BAA reported net assets of $27.3 million in its 2022 nonprofit tax filing. World Athletics has also stated that they are not prohibiting the BAA from voluntarily distributing the prize money currently owed to Deba despite the unrecovered funds from Jeptoo.

So why hasn’t the organization paid her? Are the other participants from the race also missing their additional prize money?

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Deba continued racing the Boston Marathon annually until 2018; however, each year was futile in terms of news about her 2014 prize money. Communication between the BAA and Deba slowed throughout the pandemic, but in 2023, they received an email from a representative of the organization:

“We have positive news to share. We plan to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of our Boston Marathon champions (2014 winners) and would like to extend an invitation to Buzu for the 2024 Marathon weekend.”

The email did not mention Deba’s missing prize money.

In response, Beyi wrote via email, “Thank you for the invitation to the event. Firstly, we would appreciate knowing when you can fulfill the payment of the prize money for her victory and course record… Please inform us at your earliest convenience.”

Deba declined to attend the 2024 celebration after the BAA responded that they were “still endeavoring to recoup her prize earnings.”

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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