By Grace Pointner
A flash of yellow, blue and white were carried across the finish line by a woman with a pixie cut and cheeks red from running. Cheers from the crowds of the 1980 Boston marathon went wild. They had witnessed the breaking of a world record. A crown of leaves and a glimmering gold metal were gloriously retrieved by officials and they celebrated Rosie Ruiz. She was the new champion, finishing the 26 mile race in 2 hours and thirty-one minutes— a truly amazing time.
Ruiz, a 26-year-old New York City secretary from Cuba, quickly stepped before the cameras and reporters. Nervously, Ruiz filling the ecstatic air with her awkward sneezes and surprising lack of exhaustion. Running legend Kathrine Switzer began interviewing her, asking her basic questions about running strategy and energy levels. With continued nerves, Ruiz was unable to answer these questions. Instead, she uneasily asked Switzer to explain the strategies she was asking about. Ruiz’s male counterpart, third time men’s marathon champion Bill Rodgers, even noticed Ruiz’s ignorance commenting that she didn’t know a thing about racing. The crowd became suspicious.
Boston Marathon Officials immediately scoured photographs and videos of the race. They strained to find an image of Ruiz among the other female runners, just to assure that she did run the race. But there wasn’t one. Within hours, a woman named Susan Morrow stepped forward with a revealing story.
Rewinding to NYC
Six months earlier, Morrow, a freelance photographer, met Ruiz while working at the NYC Marathon. Although one would expect Morrow to have met Ruiz after the NYC race: covered in sweat, panting for oxygen and weak in the legs. This was not the case.
Morrow ran into Ruiz as the athlete was walking from a New York subway to the finish line. Ruiz was intending to turn herself in as injured. And she did this, failing to correct the volunteers when they marked her down as “finished,” besides injured. Furthermore, the time in which Ruiz “finished” the race (2:59:29), allowed her to qualify for the Boston marathon. And so, the Boston marathon was not Ruiz’s first faulty finish.
When investigations began in Boston, NYC Marathon Officials looked closer into Ruiz’s race and quickly disqualified her from finishing. Although this indirectly disqualified her from her Boston title, the Massachusetts officials waited a few days before de-crowning Ruiz. They wanted just a little more evidence for Ruiz’s cheating habit. And they got it.
The Truth Revealed
The rest of the story began telling itself as witnesses and awkward interviews could only point to the ugly truth. Indeed, two Harvard students, John Faulkner and Sola Mahoney, claimed to have seen her in the crowd during the race. And then Ruiz couldn’t remember key moments during the race. Even the traditionally rowdy college cheering for the lead runner was absent from Ruiz’s memory. Finally, when asked why she had so much energy after shaving 25 minutes off her previous time, she said she woke up with a lot of energy.
Interestingly, Ruiz held onto her story, blaming inequality in female sports for the lack of coverage and thus missing evidence of her race. “I do not believe that there is enough coverage for women in any of the races,” Ruiz tearfully claimed at a press conference, “I believe that maybe after this, whether you prove me guilty or not — which I am not — there will be more coverage of women crossing the finish line during 26 miles.” She further blamed her “boyish hair” as a camouflage for her gender, wondering if spectators thought she was a male runner, not a female one.
None of these statements made a difference. The title was stripped away from Ruiz and given to Canadian Jacqueline Gareau who ran the race in 2:34:28. Gareau broke the record, not Ruiz. And Gareai won, not Ruiz.
What happened to Ruiz?
Ruiz went on to get arrested for embezzlement and hospitalized for brain cancer, an ailment that eventually killed her at the age of 66. She died without the title of “Boston Marathon Champion.” But she does have the fame, if not more, than many other marathon winners. Ruiz’s scandalous cheating story brought her more press than Gareau ever received and left her one of the most famous, fake finishers to ever run in a race.