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Ruiz found out she can't run from the truth

Unknown runner had 1980 Boston Marathon title stripped for cheating.


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 1999

It was a legitimate question posed by Bill Rodgers, who had just won his fourth Boston Marathon. The woman beside him, a laurel wreath atop her close-cropped hair, was Rosie Ruiz, who had just won her first.

Or so it seemed.

When she crossed the finish line on April 21, 1980, the clock read 2 hours, 31, minutes, 56 seconds, the third-fastest marathon ever by a woman and a record by a woman in this race. The 26-year-old New Yorker had come out of nowhere -- literally -- to claim the victory.

"I thought I was one of a few women to cross the finish line, until someone pulled me over and put this wreath on my head," Ruiz said. Had she expected to win? "I expected to finish," she replied. "I think this is all a dream."

Try nightmare.

Within hours of the end of the raced, suspicion about her performance ran rampant, starting with Rodgers. "The second I saw her I was skeptical," he said after sharing the awards ceremony platform with her. "I know a top runner when I see one. She didn't look tired."

More damning, though, was that no one could remember seeing her after the start of the 26-mile, 385-yard race.

"I ran the race. I really did," a tearful Ruiz said, offering to submit to a lie-detector test.

Marathon officials said they would study photographs and videotape to find Ruiz in the field.

There was no strong evidence that she had -- or had not -- run because the leading women were not recorded at the race's six checkpoints. If the first-place medal had not already been awarded to Ruiz, race director Will Cloney said, "I would have held it up."

Eight days and 10,000 photographs later, race officials ruled that Ruiz had not run the race. They could find no one who remembered seeing her through most of it. Jacqueline Gareau of Montreal, timed in 2:34.28, had led for the final 10 miles, they said. She was declared the winner.

Although no one could prove it, and Ruiz denied it, the oft-repeated story is that she rode the subway to a spot within a mile or two of the finish line and re-entered the race. (No one can do that now: Runners have computerized chips on their shoes to track them and record their starting and finishing times.)

Asked if there would be any legal action against Ruiz, Cloney said: "I would rather hear that Jacqueline is the winner and let Rosie fade into the background."

Quite the opposite. Rosie Ruiz -- banned from the major marathons -- became a synonym for cheating.

-- Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

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