- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

It seemed to be one of the most astonishing results in the 84-year history of the Boston Marathon. A native Cuban virtually unknown in the running community had won the women's competition with the third-fastest time ever (2 hours, 31 minutes, 56 seconds).
It could have been said that Rosie Ruiz had come out of nowhere.
Literally.
The date was April 21, 1980. And on today's 23rd anniversary of that infamous hoax Ruiz ran less than a mile of the 26.2-mile course her "victory" remains one of the classic put-ons in sports history.
After the race, Ruiz, 27, appeared remarkably unsweaty and calm as she mounted the podium along with men's winner Bill Rodgers to accept her wreath. However, her moment of triumph was extremely brief.
The following day, race officials began to question Ruiz's "victory" when numerous photos and videotapes failed to detect any sign of her during most of the race. Then several eyewitnesses came forth to say they had seen her jump into the field during the final half-mile, apparently after starting the marathon and then veering off course in the direction of a subway stop.
Ruiz denied cheating, suggesting ingeniously that the cameras had mistaken her for a man because of her short hair. The officials were unconvinced. Then, as they prepared to announce her disqualification, evidence arose that she also had cheated during the New York City Marathon a year earlier by also riding the subway for most of the race.
Eight days after Boston, Ruiz was stripped of her title, which went to the real winner, Jackie Gareau of Canada. Two decades later, Gareau bore no ill will toward the rival who attempted brazenly to steal her rightful triumph.
"I always took it lightly and never found myself angry with Rosie Ruiz," Gareau told the Las Vegas Sun in 2000. "In a certain way, I'm better remembered than I would have been if nothing out of the ordinary had happened."
So true. Her statement recalled belated comments by Ralph Branca, the unfortunate Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher who yielded Bobby Thomson's pennant-winning home run for the New York Giants in the 1951 National League playoff. Said Branca nearly 50 years later: "If I had struck him out, neither one of us would be remembered today."
Gareau, who still was running half-marathons two years ago at age 46, said during the 2000 interview her only regret was "that I missed the euphoria of crossing the finish line and knowing I had won." She added, "But I still get so many letters from people who remembered what happened and sort of felt sorry for me."
Chances are Gareau felt sorry for herself immediately after the event. She led from the 8-mile mark and had fought off her only serious rival, Patti Lyons, in the 15th mile.
"I supposed I was first," she recalled after finishing in 2:34:26. "Then I arrived at the finish line …"
Then Rosie.
Out of nowhere.
Lyons voiced the first suspicions, telling the Boston Globe, "I never saw [Ruiz]. Do I doubt that she was the winner? I doubt it very much."
Ruiz, a native of Havana then living in New York City, acted out her part in a manner worthy of recent Academy Award winner Robert DeNiro in "Raging Bull." Said Rosie: "I just wanted to finish, because at the 13th or 14th mile I felt I was going to collapse. To be sincere, this is a dream."
Yeah, right.
Nine days later, in a surreal scene, Gareau was brought back from her home in Montreal to re-enact crossing the finish line. She was greeted by Massachusetts Gov. Edward King, taken for a tour of the city in his limousine, dropped off briefly at the famed Cheers tavern and honored at a private dinner at the Sheraton-Boston Hotel.
Ruiz, meanwhile, bore the stigma of being one of history's most flagrant sports cheaters, continuing what had been and would remain an unfortunate life.
In 1973, after suffering periodic headaches and blackouts, she underwent surgery in Miami to remove a large tumor from her head at age 20. Five years later, a plastic plate was installed in her skull. In 1979, she filled out an application to run in the New York City Marathon, estimating her time as 4:10. With the help of the subway, she crossed the line in 2:56.29, "finishing" 11th overall.
Two years after Boston, she spent a week in a New York jail before being placed on probation for stealing $60,000 from the Manhattan real estate company where she worked. Returning to Florida, she was arrested on charges of selling cocaine to undercover agents at a Miami hotel. She spent three weeks in jail and again was placed on probation. By 1998, she was working for a medical laboratory as an account executive in West Palm Beach, Fla., and was known as Rosie Vivas, keeping the surname of her ex-husband.
And she was still trying to delude people, especially herself. Ruiz told the Palm Beach Post that she still had her first-place medal from Boston, as well as photographs and evidence from supporters to prove she had run the entire race. She described her "victory" as a triumph for women in sports.
"It hurts me to know that I did something so good and got so many problems," Ruiz said, adding that she hoped to run in Boston again.
Two days later, race director Guy Morse responded, saying, "Once you are disqualified, you are not invited back and you are not welcome back."
Small wonder even if Rosie Ruiz did provide one of Beantown's most memorable moments.


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