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On This Date in Sports April 21, 1980: Rosie Ruiz

in collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Rosie Ruiz, in just her second marathon, stuns the world, winning the Boston Marathon in a time of 2:31:56, setting a new female record. It is a 25-minute improvement over her time in the New York Marathon. However, nobody remembers seeing Ruiz on the course. Over the next few days, Ruiz’s story falls apart as it is determined she did not run the full race and became one of the most notorious cheaters in sports history.  

Rosie Ruiz was born in Havana, Cuba, on June 21, 1953. She came to the United States with her family in 1962, following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Settling in Florida, she attended college in Nebraska and worked in New York City in the 1970s. In 1979 she entered the New York Marathon, claiming to be dying from brain cancer. She was credited with a time of 2:56:29, earning an invite to run the Boston Marathon five months later. 

Still, an unknown, Rosie Ruiz was at the start of the Boston Marathon, two and half hours later she was the first woman to cross the finish line in a time of 2:31:56, setting a record for women in the Boston Marathon. It was also the third-fastest time ever run by a female in any marathon. The unknown runner was the story of the race, as Bill Rogers, who won his third straight Boston Marathon, was overshadowed. 

In winning the 26.2-mile race, Rosie Ruiz was in remarkable condition at the end of the race as she barely broke a sweat and showed no signs of fatigue. Along the route, few remember seeing Ruiz on the course, especially Jacqueline Gareau and Patti Lyons, who were the leaders at the 17th and 18th-mile mark. Neither of them remembers seeing Rosie Ruiz pass them on the way to the finish line. Along the course, nobody saw pictures or videos of Ruiz running the race. 

Two Harvard students do remember seeing Rosie Ruiz near the finish saw her come out of the crowd and join the race. In the days after the race, more questions began to be raised about Ruiz running the race. Bill Rogers interviewed along with Ruiz, was stunned that she was unable to answer basic questions all marathon runners knew, nor did she remember key landmarks on the 26.2-mile course. Slowly her story began to fall apart as some remember seeing Rosie Ruiz on a subway during the race. 

As suspicion rose, Rosie Ruiz was investigated by both Boston and New York officials; both determined that she never ran the race. Eventually, Canadian Jacqueline Gareau, who finished the race in a time of 2:34:28, was declared the winner of the 1980 Boston Marathon as Rosie Ruiz went down as one of the most notorious cheaters in the history of sports. 

Rosie Ruiz claimed innocence and protested the cheating allegations, but never again was allowed in the race. Ruiz later spent time in jail for embezzlement, but never publicly acknowledged cheating. Rosie Ruiz died in 2019 after a bout with cancer. A friend came forward, stating that Ruiz did confess cheating, stating she did not intend to win the race and thought other women finished the race already when he rejoined the race.