Who was Rosie Ruiz?

The late Rosie Vivas (née Ruiz), who died of cancer, aged 66, on July 8, 2019, will always be best remembered as the ‘winner’ of the women’s division of Boston Marathon in 1980. On April 21, 1980, Ruiz supposedly completed the Boston course in a time of 2:31:56, breaking the course record by three minutes, and recording the third fastest by a woman in marathon history. She also improved by over 20 minutes on her previous best, supposedly achieved in the New York City Marathon the previous October.

Ruiz, 26, happily accepted a laurel wreath and medal for her ‘victory’, but suspicions soon arose that her record-breaking performance was not all it seemed. She lacked the toned, defined legs of a typical long-distance runner and, having supposedly run 26 miles, in a heavy T-shirt, in temperatures approaching 80°F, she appeared at the finish line apparently as fresh as a daisy, without a bead of sweat in sight. Commentators, including Kathrine Switzer – the first woman to run, officially in the Boston Marathon – who had followed the race throughout, were perplexed as to how Ruiz had managed to pass Canadian Jacqueline Gareau in the closing stages, and rightly so.

Subsequent analysis of race photographs and interviews revealed that Ruiz had not run the full marathon distance, but rather jumped into the race in the last mile or so. However, in so doing, she made a serious miscalculation; instead of emerging from the crowd, unnoticed, in the middle of a pack of runners, she did ahead of the other 448 woman in the field. Her friend, Steve Marek, said later, ‘Believe me, she was as shocked as anyone when she came in first.’

Ruiz was disqualified in favour of Gareau and, to add insult to injury, her time in the New York City Marathon – in which she finished eleventh behind record-breaking Norwegian Grete Waitz – was invalidated after it emerged that she rode the subway for 16 miles after turning an ankle. Ruiz never admitted any wrongdoing and never returned the medal she was presented in Boston.

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