Carson Councilwoman Sylvia Muise was first over the finish line, but she didn't win the race in a walk.
She ran--smack into a controversy about whether it is fair to run in what is labeled a "stride" race.
The contest was the Mayor's Challenge Three-Mile Stride--a less strenuous complement added this year to the annual Tom Sullivan St. Patrick's Day 10-K Run. Both races were held Sunday in Torrance and they raised about $90,000 for the Blind Children's Center in Los Angeles.
"I didn't know I was doing anything wrong--if I was doing anything wrong," said Muise, who acknowledged in an interview that she had jogged part of the way. "It is foolishness even to be concerned about it."
But race organizers--who concede the lack of written rules make the walking-running controversy an arguable point--said Muise was plenty concerned after the first-place mayor's trophy went to Ruth Gralow, mayor of Palos Verdes Estates, who had walked the entire way.
"(Torrance Mayor) Katy Geissert came over to me and said, 'We have a problem here. Sylvia Muise is very upset and she's talking about calling the newspapers,' " said Louise Davis, coordinator of the stride race.
Geissert, who dreamed up the Mayor's Challenge to drum up publicity for the walking race, answered questions about the race's finish with a sigh.
"There was a controversy and it was too bad because it was a great run and a great walk," she said, adding that about 1,000 participated in the stride race.
"It started out as a friendly sort of thing. It was my idea to challenge the other mayors of the South Bay. I sent out letters and I invited them to join with me (in) this worthy cause of friendly competition and camaraderie."
Officials from five cities participated--Torrance, Carson, Lawndale, Lomita and Palos Verdes Estates. (Muise, who was mayor in Carson until March 10 when a post-election reshuffle put Kay Calas in the mayor's seat, was permitted to remain as Carson's mayoral entry.)
Torrance Councilwoman Dee Hardison was walking the last leg of the race when she spotted Muise's lithe form. "Sylvia was running when she went past me," Hardison said in an interview.
Geissert, a tall, grandmotherly figure, was proceeding at a more stately pace.
"Quite frankly, I was so far back in the pack that I had no idea who came in first," she said. When she finished, race organizers handed her the trophy and told her to give it to Gralow.
Once Muise's unhappiness became known, Davis went over to where Muise and a friend were standing.
"They were contending that Sylvia had crossed the line first. . . . It was said over and over again," Davis said. "Sylvia also said that her name was going to go on the (trophy) with Ruth Gralow's."
Her attitude, said Davis, was, " 'I'm so competitive and I am going to win any way I can.' This is a stride event and I don't believe that the definition of stride has anything to with run."
(Under Olympic rules for walking races, participants must keep at least one foot on the ground at all times and walkers must straighten the leg before each step.)
Muise's friend brought matters to a head by declaring that she was "going to go the newspapers" and then threatened to march up to the microphone and "make an announcement," according to Davis. (The Times, however, learned of the imbroglio from a Carson source who asked not to be identified.)
"I said, 'Look, we don't need adverse publicity for our event. Our goal is to raise $100,000 for the Blind Children's Center and we don't need politics.' I tried to smooth over the situation. It wasn't going to work," Davis said. Muise's friend "just kept on and kept on."
To placate Muise and her friend, whom Muise declined to identify, Davis said the race organizers eventually made an announcement that Muise had been first across the finish line, awarded her a pair of tennis shoes and "a Walkman-type thing," and had her say a few words from the podium.
Muise will also get a special trophy.
"What I have decided to do (is) to be fair because Ruth Gralow won--she walked," Davis said. "We had a huge trophy made and it goes to the winning mayor" to keep for a year.
"The trophy that Sylvia will get will say, 'The mayor who crossed it the fastest,' " Davis said. "Sylvia will just keep hers."
Muise, who maintains she won fairly, said the trophy is unimportant.
"I don't even care," she said. "I didn't even know there was any trophy or anything."
The contretemps has left race organizers a bit wiser.
"We didn't have rules," Davis said.
"Next year, we will have rules."