Note: This story has been updated to include thoughts from David Chamberlain, who was later proclaimed the 2012 American Birkebeiner classic champion.
Before and during the American Birkebeiner 54 k classic race on Saturday, the thought of being disqualified never crossed Joe Dubay’s mind.
The 21-year-old said he didn’t think twice when his College of Saint Scholastica teammate Chris Parr gave him his bib, or when he started with Wave 1 and the elites in Cable, Wis., or as he contended for the win with seasoned veterans Vegard Ulvang of Norway and David Chamberlain of Boulder Nordic Sport.
The look on Parr’s face at the finish told him something was wrong, Dubay said in a phone interview on Monday.
As the college freshman sprinted to the line and narrowly beat Chamberlain followed by Ulvang for the victory in his first Birkie, Dubay realized there might be a very big problem. Living only a couple of hours away in Minneapolis, he had been announced as the winner as he came through, but that was only because someone recognized him.
According to the entry list, he was Chris Parr.
Dubay said he contacted some race officials immediately after the race.
“I told them, ‘I’m not Chris Parr. My name’s Joe Dubay. What do you want me to do about this?’ ” he said. “I was pretty sure I would get immediately disqualified.”
Instead, Dubay said the officials told him to sit tight while they sorted things out. The said he should go to the podium ceremony and press conference in the meantime, he said.
“I felt like was in a difficult spot because I made a mistake,” Dubay said. “It should have been somebody else up there not me.”
About an hour after the press conference, the results reflected Dubay’s disqualification. He didn’t hear back from race officials, but discovered the DQ upon checking the results later in the day. While there was no money at stake in the 54 k classic race, the mixup caused a podium shift with Chamberlain moving to first and Ulvang placing second. Murray Carter of Manitoba was third.
According to American Birkebeiner Executive Director Ned Zuelsdorff, Dubay was disqualified for not registering for the 2012 classic race and skiing in another racer’s bib. That violated rules set by the International Federation of Skiing and the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, he explained in an email.
Zuelsdorff quoted a statement from the Birkie website:
“Do not allow another skier to use your bib. If this does occur, the skier and finish time will be disqualified from the race, and both you and the person using your bib will each be required to pay a $150 penalty before being allowed to enter a future event. You and the skier may also prohibited from entering a future event for a period of time.”
The statement explained that skiing in someone else’s bib can cause issues with age class and overall standings. For safety purposes, it was important for a racer to be identified in case of a problem out on the course.
Zuelsdorff wrote the problem wasn’t new — they had a similar situation with a Kortelopet 23 k “winner” and age-class discrepancies in the past — but this was the first with a Birkie winner.
Dubay said he was working with his college coach, Chad Salmela, to right his wrong.
“Basically, I’d just like to express to them that I definitely regret that and apologize for causing a bit of a mess for them for the other athletes that had to deal with the confusion,” Dubay said. “Racing under Chris’s bib was not the right thing to do in the first place.”
Nearly a month ago, Parr offered Dubay his bib upon qualifying for Junior Nationals. Parr decided to skip the Birkie in preparation for the races March 3-10, but came to cheer on Dubay.
He picked up his bib — registered for Wave 1 of the classic race — and gave it to Dubay. In the classic race, the elites and Wave 1 start together, so Dubay jumped in and contended with six-time Olympic medalist Ulvang and Chamberlain, the race service director at BNS.
Dubay, who won a 30 k Finnish Junior Championship in 2009, said he felt good throughout Saturday’s race, but regretted how things turned out.
“I didn’t really understand how big the race was, which also probably led to me not putting two and two together there,” he said. “I went to the start and did my thing. I was in shock the whole time; I was like, ‘Holy smokes, I really didn’t know this was going to be this big.’ ”
The American Birkebeiner and its associated races reached an all-time high with more than 9,000 participants and an estimated 20,000 spectators this year.
The man who was retroactively dubbed the classic champion, Chamberlain didn’t have any hard feelings.
“I have to hand it to Joe Dubay, he skied a great race, smart tactics and a good sprint at the end,” Chamberlain wrote in an email. “When it came down to the finish straight none of us could follow him. Nobody can take away his effort on Saturday, and the number he had on his back certainly didn’t affect his performance.”
On his end, Chamberlain was pleased with how the pack racing played out. He felt good and his skis were fast, making the 54 k more enjoyable. However, nothing topped skiing alongside one of Norway’s greatest racers of all time.
“The best part of my day on Saturday was the chance to compete with my childhood hero, Vegard Ulvang,” Chamberlain wrote. “I always have admired him, and getting the chance to exchange a few words with him during the race and have a talk with him at the podium ceremony afterwards was really special for me. I can say after skiing behind him during the race that he still has a lot to teach about classic technique, every kick and pole is in the right place with no wasted effort.”
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.