SI Vault
Kenny Moore
April 28, 1980
Bill Rodgers (above) tied the record with a third straight Boston Marathon victory, but who was first to finish the full distance among the women was open to question
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April 28, 1980

Mastery And Mystery

Bill Rodgers (above) tied the record with a third straight Boston Marathon victory, but who was first to finish the full distance among the women was open to question

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At 16 miles, SI photographer Heinz Kluetmeier, who was concentrating on locating and shooting the leading women runners, came by on a motorcycle and, checking his wrist, where he had penned their numbers, shouted to Goodall, "No. 22 [Gareau] is leading. No. 1 [Lyons] is second. You're third."

Goodall drove herself over the hills. At the depth of her pain, a friend passed, calling encouragement. "Is it worth it?" she rasped. After that there were no more complaints, only water flying at her from hoses and paper cups, only ice cubes that tasted like plastic, only the pain in her thighs. Three women passed her in the last six miles, Gillian Adams of England, Laurie Binder of San Diego and Kathleen Samet of Albuquerque. Five women now were ahead of her. When Goodall finished, in 2:42:23, she said to an official, "I guess sixth isn't so bad my first time out."

"But you were seventh," said the man. And there, sitting beside Rodgers at the microphone, with the sapphire-and-gold medal about her neck and the mountain laurel across her brow, was Rosie Ruiz of New York City. She had crossed the line in a stunning 2:31:56, the third-fastest women's time in history.

Ruiz is 26 and an administrative assistant for a metal-trading firm in Manhattan. She had run only one marathon before, a reported 2:56:29 in the women's division of the 1979 New York Marathon. As she answered reporters' questions, it quickly became clear that she was a most remarkable neophyte at the craft she had turned on its ear. She said she had been training hard only for a year and a half, although she had run track in high school and college. Her best time for the mile, she said, was 5:30. She is a member of no club, trains 60 to 70 miles a week, and most crucially, was seen by no other woman runner in the race. Asked about this, Ruiz said, "I paced myself off the men. Since it was only my second race, I'm not familiar with watching out for where everybody is." She could recall no splits for the intermediate distances. Indeed, the term split had to be explained to her.

There was a moment when reporters and coaches and officials had nothing to say, a moment of recognition. Either this was the most spectacular upset in marathon history, or something was very fishy. Finally, Ruiz was asked when she realized she was in first place. Had she led the entire distance, or had there been, as Lyons now thought, a grave mistake?

Ruiz left without replying. Rodgers, who had been staring at her with the blank expression of extreme, dehydrated fatigue, said a few minutes later. "I don't believe it. I don't believe that woman had run a marathon. She wasn't tired enough."

That impression, coupled with the almost incredible statistic that a 5:30 miler was alleged to have run 26 miles, 385 yards at a pace of 5:46 per mile, led to frantic searches of memory. Gareau, who had held off a valiant charge by Lyons to come up second, with personal bests for both of 2:34:28 and 2:35:08, respectively, said someone had asked a policeman at 18 miles whether she still was first; the policeman had said yes. Lyons said, "People were saying I was second woman at the fire station at 17 miles. And no woman could have passed me from then on without my seeing her."

Bob Bright, race director of the Midland Run in New Jersey, was waiting for his friend Lyons at 23 miles. "She was the second girl to come by," he said. "The first was Gareau. I knew her. I'd seen her run in Montreal. There was just no way Ruiz could have been there."

A normal procedure meant to avoid such controversies is to record runners' numbers at various checkpoints along the course, thus to verify that everyone has gone the distance. At Boston, the practice is to do such a check only upon the first 100 runners past the checkpoints. Because the lead women runners were behind the first 100 men ( Ruiz was credited with 147th place overall). Race Director Cloney had no quick way of affirming Ruiz' having run all the way. "I have no way of knowing whether she was an impostor or not." he said. "We have no one yet saying she was seen joining the race after the start. We are going to look at the TV tapes whenever they are available. There will be no decision—if indeed there will be a decision—for a minimum of a week, probably two."

Until then, only Ruiz knows for sure. And she was making no statements. New York Marathon Director Fred Lebow said Monday evening that he had seen Ruiz and she was crying. Asked where she was, Lebow replied that he had promised her not to say. "And," he added, "I, for one, don't cheat."

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