Update: The fastest time and winning climber's name were added below.
It was almost too good to be true.
A 31-year-old Los Angeles resident surprised elite racers when he won a grueling 62-story charity stair climb in a record-breaking 7 minutes and 45 seconds.
Turns out, it probably was too good to be true.
Miguel Larios was stripped of the winning time he posted ascending downtown’s Aon Center during the American Lung Association in California’s fifth annual Fight For Air Climb after other competitors raised questions about his performance.
“When this guy put in this fast time, we were like what the heck?” said Mark Trahanovsky, a 53-year-old Yorba Linda resident who’s part of a team of climbers. He posted the ninth-place time overall and the top in his age and gender category.
“We looked at this person’s body and his physique, and we knew (he did) not have the physique of an elite stair-climber. He wasn’t sweating a lot; he wasn’t tired. He was wearing basketball shoes.”
Larios’ first-place time would have been a course record. Instead he lost his winning finish --and his job as an Aon Center maintenance worker.
Larios maintains that he completed the climb fair and square, though he acknowledged in a phone interview with NBC4 that building surveillance video shows him taking the elevator during the race.
“They said that I cheated,” Larios said. "They have video saying that I took the elevator.”
Larios said he was fired Tuesday, a day after top race participants learned that he has been disqualified.
Trahanovsky, who said he didn’t know Larios’ name and didn’t want to embarrass the disqualified climber, joked that he too would like to have taken the elevator.
“It’s such a painful sport, but it’s an extreme sport," Trahanovsky said. "It’s like a swimmer using fins.”
Larios said he gained a competive advantage because he knew the Aon Center intimately after working in the building for more than a decade.
“I know the stairwells. I had an advantage,” Larios said.
Now he’s out of a job, and he didn’t want to say anything else about the incident. A call to the center’s general manager was not immediately returned.
It’s an unusual twist to what’s normally a light-hearted fundraiser for the American Lung Association in California. Though the event draws competitive stair-climbers, the focus is on the vast majority of the 750 participants who aren’t serious athletes, association spokesman Bo Smith said.
Some climb – with plenty of difficulty – in honor of relatives who have lung cancer or asthma, he said.
“This is fundraising event. It really is focused on climbers of all skill levels. Folks who personally take it as a race … often call it that. But it really is a fun climb,” Smith said. “We don’t have a winner of this event. There’s no such thing as a winner. “
Smith said he couldn’t say exactly how Larios got to the top or how he was determined to have cheated. Nor would Smith confirm the disqualified runner’s name. (Larios’ name is listed at the bottom of a time-keeping website for the event.)
“There was no way to validate the time, so we simply pulled that time,” Smith said. “He could have used wings. He could have flown upwards.”
After Larios' disqualification, Jesse Berg, a respected 39-year-old stair-climber from Chicago, was deemed to have the fastest official time: 8 minutes and 2 seconds.
The association’s next fundraiser is a swim in Santa Monica Bay on Aug. 19.