Hello Kitty Run Singapore marred by rain, medal confusion

Runners make a dash with a makeshift umbrella to rejoin the race.
Runners make a dash with a makeshift umbrella to rejoin the race.



What started out as a family-friendly run to celebrate the world's most famous (non)Cat's 40th birthday ended in arguments, disappointment and even tears for some of the participants at the Hello Kitty Fun Run 2014.

On Sunday morning, the Hello Kitty Run Singapore Facebook page was overrun with hundreds of complaints from irate racegoers.

Runners took to social media post-event to vent about what they claim was a "poorly-managed and executed race", with some demanding a refund of the $70 race fee.

When Yahoo Singapore was at the run early Saturday morning, the ribbon bedecked crowd of 17,000 was in good spirits and full of anticipation for the "cutest run in Singapore" at Sentosa Gateway.

So what went wrong for these runners, and when?

The heavy downpour

About five minutes into the race, it started to rain heavily, leaving many runners, especially families, stranded or desperately seeking for shelter.

"I understand that wet weather is not something that the organisers can control, but it would have helped a lot if they have provided ponchos at least, especially for my kids," said runner Dominic Goh, 34, who was at the run with his two daughters aged 3 and 7.

"My girls were screaming and completely drenched, and my wife and I were trying to hold their hands while balancing our stroller and bags. There was no designated shelter in sight and none of the crew were able to tell me what to do. It was really stressful and unpleasant."

Many of the participants of the Run, organised by Pink Apple, were families with small children and even babies, as well as some elderly fans.

"We don't blame the organisers for the rain, of course - but at least tell us where we can hide, or have some temporary shelters along the way," said business manager Adeline Tan, 29, who brought her young daughter.

"I think its obvious that most of the participants are not your regular marathon-goers and have no experience. Perhaps the organizers could have taken note of this and trained the crew to handle such situations better."

While this reporter spotted many of the crew members handing out their own ponchos and helping distressed parents carry their prams and belongings to shelters, it did appear that better planning was needed - especially when many participants starting slipping and falling on the rain slicked metal manhole covers.

In its response to Yahoo's queries, the organisers said that there had been wet weather contingency plans in effect.

"Runners were flagged off in different waves so that in the event of inclement weather, organisers will monitor and delay the race in blocks of 30-60 minutes when required. If the weather doesn't turn for the better, the race will be cancelled. If runner have already been flagged off, they will be advised to seek shelter. Due to the rain, we only managed to flag off 3 out of 5 groups of participants while the remaining group of participants were advised to seek the nearest shelter - in this instance, at the Sentosa Boardwalk and VivoCity," read the statement from Pink Apple.

Medal-snatching

When the rain finally cleared and runners made their way to the end of the race, many were confused to find that the run had "shortened" itself to just over 3 km instead of the promised 5 km.

"I don't understand what's going on - I just saw the 3km marker and suddenly in 5 minutes I am at the finishing line," said racegoer Winnie Toh.

They were further dismayed when they were told that the finishers medals - a limited edition Hello Kitty version - had "run out" along with the canned drinks and Hello Kitty snacks at the Siloso Beach end point.

"People were yelling and shouting at the crew when they queued for over half an hour only to be told rudely that the medals had run out and too bad," said Jansie Tan, 17, who said she saw people who were not racegoers queuing for the medals and asking for three or four at a time, which they were given by the harassed crew.

Angry runners on Facebook posted screenshots of a participant selling Hello Kitty Run medals on buying and selling site Carousell, where she boasted about how she and her family repeatedly collected extra medals - as much as a "whole box".

"Shame on those who collected more than they deserved!" posted Facebook user and runner Alicia Lim.

The organizers were clearly in disarray, as they shifted the medal queue from one location to another and alternately declared medals were all claimed and then saying that there would be more on the way later. They later posted on Facebook asking those who did not get their medals to contact them at their e-mail address.

Facebook user Alex Heng said that the staff were not equipped to handle the angry mob.

"No staff on the ground with PR skills to handle the situation. The moment I heard the girl make the announcement to ask the participants to queue up for "a limited number of medals" I expected a stampede to happen," he posted.

"All these are glaringly embarrassing and extremely detrimental to the organiser's reputation."

Organisers defend Hello Kitty Run

Pink Apple attributed the disorganisation over medal distribution to a "sudden influx to participants at the pavilion" because of the "unpredictable weather circumstances".

"The medal collection was located at Sapphire pavilion at the Siloso Beach and there were barricades put up to guide participants to the medal collection area. Race marshals and security personnels were also there to direct participants to collect their medals and manage the crowd at collection point," said the Pink Apple spokesman.

"Due to unpredictable weather circumstances, this caused a sudden influx of participants at the pavilion where collection point was, while participants who have already collected their medals were unwilling to step out of the pavilion. It is natural for initial chaos to occur on-ground. This was eventually resolved by consistent directions given by the working crew."

In response to accusations from the runners that there was a lack of communication from the organisers and crew, Pink Apple said that they had made announcements on their official Facebook Page.

"We made an announcement both on-ground and through our official Facebook Page to inform participants that the run will be temporarily discontinued until further notice and advised runners to seek shelter. A subsequent announcement was made on social media to inform participants that they will still be able to join in at the event's fringe activities at Siloso Beach."

Photos from the Run:

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