Every year on Patriots’ Day, the city of Boston hosts their world-famous Boston Marathon. The race has been held every year since 1897, with the only year not to have one being 2020 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Since 1967, women have also participated in the marathon.
The 84th Boston Marathon was held on April 21, 1980. This year, the women’s winner was relatively unknown marathoner Rosie Ruiz. Ruiz was a runner who had qualified for the Boston Marathon after finishing 11th in the women’s division of the New York City Marathon the year before. Despite qualifying, there was no expectation for Ruiz to compete with the top runners.
It came to a surprise to everyone when Ruiz not only won the women’s division, but did so with a time of 2:31:56. This set a Boston Marathon record for women, as well as put her as the third-fastest women’s marathoner ever. For an unknown runner like Ruiz to shatter such records, speculation arose almost immediately.
Spectators noticed as she finished the race that she lacked the normal fatigue experienced by someone just completing a marathon. When asked about this in her post-race interview, Ruiz replied, “I got up with a lot of energy this morning.”
In addition, the woman who finished in second and was later declared the winner, Jacqueline Gareau, was told at mile 18 that she had a one-mile lead on the next competitor, meaning there was no way Ruiz could’ve taken the lead without Gareau noticing.
Later, two Harvard students, John Faulkner and Sola Mahoney, recalled seeing Ruiz coming out of the crowd and joining the race on Commonwealth Avenue a half-mile from the finish line. In addition, freelance photographer Susan Morrow recalled accompanying Ruiz during the New York City Marathon from a subway station to the first aid station, declaring herself an injured runner. Despite this, New York City officials mistakenly marked her a finisher of the marathon. When news broke of Ruiz’s win in Boston, Morrow chose to share this story.
A week after Ruiz’s supposed Boston Marathon win, both New York City Marathon officials and the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) opened investigations into Ruiz’s finishes in their respective marathons. On April 25, New York City Marathon officials found sufficient evidence to disqualify Ruiz from their 1979 race. Shortly after, the BAA did the same, making Gareau the official winner with a true record-setting time of 2:34:28.
Until her death, Ruiz publicly defended that she finished the Boston Marathon. However, an acquaintance of Ruiz, Steve Marek, revealed in 2019 that she admitted only months after the marathon to him that she cheated, stating that “she jumped out of the crowd, not knowing that the first woman hadn’t gone by yet. Believe me, she was as shocked as anyone when she came in first.”
Ruiz died of cancer at age 66 on July 8, 2019, in Lake Worth Beach, Florida. In a CTV interview shortly after her death, Gareau revealed she didn’t have ill feelings for Ruiz, but rather she felt pity for her.
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