Your Cheatin' Start: Rosie Ruiz's Marathon Missteps

Brian GaylordCorrespondent IFebruary 8, 2009

Much was made of China’s use of prepubescent girl gymnasts at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.


I say better that—and the chance for your country’s adulation—than some other form of forced labor, such as factory work. No cheering crowds there.


But China’s Olympic fraud was amateur hour.


Rosie Ruiz's “victory” in the 1980 Boston Marathon leaves the Chinese gymnasts in the dust.


We loathe the petty thief, the second-story man, the stick-up guy who knocks off a 7-Eleven. But pull off the Great Brinks Robbery, and we treat you with a curious reverence reserved for blue-collar crooks at the height of their game.


Make no mistake: In sports’ theater-in-the-round, Ruiz’s hijacking of the world's oldest and most famous marathon is somewhere on a par with the Great Brinks Robbery.    

Eleven robbers knocked off the Brinks Building in Boston in 1950 to the tune of nearly $3 million in what routinely is referred to as the “crime of the century” for the 20th century.


Fast forward 30 years to 1980, and unknown runner Ruiz slips into the Boston Marathon race for the final few hundred yards, the first woman to cross the finish line.


In a 2006 piece, Orlando Sentinel columnist Dave Darling wrote that accounts of others suggest Ruiz wanted to have a good showing but wasn’t trying to win the race. She apparently made a miscalculation and unwittingly entered the race ahead of the other nearly 450 women runners.


Ruiz is thought to have dropped out of the race and boarded the subway, getting off close to the finish line. Complaints about public transit notwithstanding, she broke the Boston Marathon record for women by three minutes.


A New Yorker, Ruiz had earned her qualifying time for the Boston Marathon earlier in the New York City Marathon. Apparently she rode the subway to the finish line in that race, too.


Eight days after the 1980 Boston Marathon, Ruiz was stripped of her title, and it was awarded to Jackie Gareau. Ruiz eventually was disqualified from the New York City Marathon.


Despite eyewitness accounts, photographic and film evidence, and other evidence against Ruiz, she never publicly has admitted to cheating in the Boston Marathon.


Ruiz barely perspired at the Boston Marathon’s finish line on that 70-degree day.


On the other hand, legend has it that Pheidippides—in whose memory marathons are named—expired after running some 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to bring word of the Greek army's victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon.


Sure Ruiz cheated, but she struck a blow for all of us who know that running 26.2 miles is OK cumulatively, over a lifetime, but not all at once.