Today in Sports History: April 21st


(Rosie Ruiz briefly celebrates. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

4/21/1980 - Rosie Ruiz: the marathon bandit

Bill Rodgers' fourth straight win in the men's field of the Boston Marathon was overshadowed by Rosie Ruiz, a 26 year-old Cuban immigrant who won it on the women's side. Ruiz posted the fastest time in the 84-year history of the event, completing the 26.2 mile run in 2 hours, 31 minutes, and 56 seconds. Remarkably, her time was nearly twenty-five minutes faster than her finish in the New York City Marathon, which she had raced in to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

The anomalies didn't stop there. The women who finished second and third hadn't seen her at all, nor had any of the other race participants. As far as anyone knew, this was only the second marathon she had ever run, and she finished with the course record.

Ruiz stepped to winner's podium beside Rodgers and was garnished in the traditional laurel wreath. People's suspicions were immediately elevated. She did not have the body of a long-distance runner; she was hardly sweating and didn't appear at all exhausted. Analysts quizzed Ruiz on the finer points of running and she supplied very basic answers. Only a few hours after winning the medal, rumors of a fraud began to percolate.

"I ran the race. I really did," said a teary Ruiz, who vowed to take a lie-detector test if she had to. "When I got up this morning, I had so much energy."

Thousands of still photos and video footage were examined, with Ruiz appearing only at the very end. It didn't take long for spectator-witnesses to unveil the truth. Ruiz had hopped on the subway and re-entered the race during the last mile. It turned out she had pulled the same stunt in the New York City Marathon as well. With no evidence that she had completed the entire race, Ruiz's victory and wreath were given to Canadian sprinter Jacqueline Gareau.

A week after the news of Ruiz's disqualification, Gareau ran the final 200 yards of the Boston Marathon in a pair of jeans. Bill Rodgers was one of a few hundred people to congratulate her at the finish line. Ruiz refused to give up her first-place medal, so Gareau was given a bigger one.

Many wondered if Ruiz intended to finish first. In her post-race interview, Ruiz had said, ''I really didn't expect to win. I came across in 2:31, that's all I have to say. I know I ran the course. I did the best I can. What else can I say? How would you feel? I just wanted to finish. I didn't know I was the first woman until I crossed the finish line. To be sincere, this is a dream."

Had she finished anywhere other than first, Ruiz would have gotten away with it like she did in New York. No one knows for sure what her motive was. Rosie never admitted to any wrong-doing or that she didn't deserve the medal. In the end, Rosie Ruiz is maybe the most identifiable female runner in American history. Her merits don't deserve it, but her story certainly does.

Also on this day:

1996: The Chicago Bulls defeat the Washington Bullets, 103-93, in the final game of the year, bringing their win-loss total to 72-10.

Further reading:

Ruiz's fraud inspired many security changes []

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