Tuesday 3 August 2021

Homohoax: The Non-Confession of a Long Distance Runner

[Homohoax: A hoax, prank, scam, confidence trick, deception or fraud committed by, targeted at, or attributed to the lgbt community]

Even as we marvel at the achievements of the Olympians let’s not forget that some athletes cheat. Russia has been the “bad boy” of sport for several years with its use of performance-enhancing drugs, but there have also been individuals who cheat in other ways.

In fact, the first case of cheating at the modern Olympics occurred at the very first one in Paris in 1896. A Greek marathon runner finished in third place, but he was disqualified after it was discovered that he had travelled most of the course in a horse and carriage (incidentally, he wasn’t stripped of his bronze medal because only first and second place received them in 1896). As we shall see, history will repeat itself.

One of the most famous sporting hoaxes occurred in the 1980 Boston Marathon, and to her dying day the lgbt runner responsible denied any wrong-doing.

On a hot, sunny morning on 21st April 1980 thousands of people lined the streets of Boston, Massachusetts, to watch one of the biggest marathons in the USA. There were 5,471 entrants – 5,015 male and 456 female. It was very much a standard marathon throughout, until the last mile.

Spectators and commentators were caught off-guard by the sight of the lead female runner, Rosie Ruiz. She seemed to be running a record race, and everyone cheered as she crossed the finish line in a time of 2 hours 31 minutes, 56 seconds. This was the fastest time for a woman at the Boston Marathon and the third fastest in the world at that time.

The media instantly hailed Ruiz as the new hero for female sport. But fellow runners were questioning her achievement. The two women who finished in second and third place had been told when they reached mile 17 that they were in the lead, and neither of them saw Rosie Ruiz pass them.

No other runner could remember seeing her until the last half mile, and with her bright yellow shirt she would have been noticeable. It was also noticed that after supposedly running a full marathon Ruiz was hardly sweating and her shirt was virtually dry. It was also not a regular running vest but a short-sleeved shirt. So it wasn’t long before people began to question her result.

In an after-race interview Ruiz didn’t seem to show any knowledge of standard marathon training techniques when asked how she trained. Ruiz claimed she had trained herself. Nobody believed her. No-one at any official check point remembered seeing her. These questions over her finish soon alerted race officials and an investigation was started.

As the rumours of Rosie Ruiz faking her marathon run grew some eye witnesses came forward who said they had seen her moving out of the crowd of spectators and begin running on the route. Film footage of the marathon, or as much of the route as was covered, was poured over to see if Ruiz and her distinctive shirt could be spotted. She was not.

While this was going on, organisers of the New York City Marathon began looking at their own race results. Ruiz had competed in their race in the previous October. Her finish time was what had qualified her for the Boston Marathon. Ruiz was asked after the Boston Marathon how she could have cut half an hour of her New York Marathon time. Again, she said she just trained. Everything about both marathons looked suspicious, so the New York organisers launched their own investigation.

Ruiz’s New York application was suspicious enough. She put in her application after the closing date and it was turned down. However, Ruiz claimed that she had a brain tumour and had two operations. Without asking for medical verification the organisers gave her a special dispensation to enter.

Several witnesses at the came forward who said Ruiz had also faked her New York marathon run. A photographer remembered travelling with her on the New York subway during the race. Ruiz claimed to have injured her ankle and was on her way to a medical station further along the route. On getting to the medical station Ruiz just joined the runners.

New York voided Ruiz’s 1979 marathon results and disqualified her on 25th April 1980. A couple of days later, Boston voided and disqualified Ruiz as well.

The controversy carried on over the following years. Rosie Ruiz continued to protest her innocence and expressed her intention to continue marathon running. It was obvious that no-one was going to believe in her innocence and after a year of two Ruiz seemed to disappear from public view.

The only time Rosie Ruiz’s name returned to the headlines were in references to her as the hoax marathon runner, though she only exacerbated her reputation when news appeared that she was arrested twice – once for embezzlement, and once for involvement in a cocaine deal.

Despite her widespread notoriety Rosie Ruiz managed to retreat into obscurity. It is known that she married Aicaro Vivas in 1984 and divorced in 1987. Nothing much else was known about her until 2019 when an obituary notice in Florida noted the death of one Rosie Vivas at the age of 66. Was this Rosie Ruiz? All the details in her obituary matched exactly those of Ruiz (except that there was no mention of any marathon running!). Journalists double-checked the details and confirmed that the Boston Marathon hoaxer had indeed died.

Rosie has been battling cancer for the previous ten years, no faking it his time. Her obituary mentioned her life partner Margarita Alvarez, who has expressed her lasting love for Rosie every year on the anniversary of her death. Rosie was also survived by three step-children.

No-one will ever know why Rosie Ruiz tried to hoax the world with two fake marathon runs. She wasn’t the first to do so, as the first modern Olympics has shown, and she won’t be the last, but because her hoaxes were uncovered in such a high profile race and manner it will be the only thing the world will remember her for.

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