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THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE SUBWAY RIDER
The saga of Rosie Ruiz is not without its wry elements. Ruiz is charged with finishing a race she didn't start, setting herself forever apart from the many road runners who start races they don't finish. If her accusers are correct, the 26-year-old Manhattan office worker won the Boston Marathon by running, in effect, an 880. And she was allowed to enter the Boston race on the strength of a qualifying time in the 1979 New York Marathon during which she allegedly took a shortcut of at least 16 miles by riding the subway, the modern-day equivalent, one supposes, of Pheidippides riding a goat partway from Marathon to Athens. It's tempting to compare anybody capable of pulling off such stunts with, say, streakers at a football game.
But streaking by an outsider is different from an unscrupulous competitor subverting a sports event and being adjudged an official winner. Games and races may be decided by dumb luck or wrongheaded officiating, but it is imperative that they be staged with honest effort, under conditions more or less equal for all competitors. When athletes use steroids or other drugs to gain unfair advantage, they are violating the very essence of sport. The same is true of those who resort to fraud to affect the outcome of events.
Which is what Ruiz stands accused of having done. The Cuban-born Ruiz, who moved to the U.S. with her family in 1962, told reporters last week she aspires to be an actress, and such is her theatricality that, says one friend, "if you ask her to shed five tears, she'll shed exactly five." Ruiz also revealed that she had undergone two brain operations—one to remove a "tangerine-sized" benign tumor seven years ago, the other to install a plastic plate in her head in 1978. There was other biographical information on which Ruiz would not comment: SI has learned that in 1977 a male acquaintance of Ruiz' filed a complaint with New York City police accusing her of removing credit cards from his apartment. The complainant never prosecuted and restitution apparently was made on all or part of some $1,500 worth of charges run up on the cards.
Ruiz said she began running in February 1979 and eventually was logging 100 miles a week. However, one of her roommates related that Ruiz' job with a commodities firm kept her so busy that she often had little time to run and trained instead on an exercise bicycle in her apartment. Nevertheless, she signed up for last October's New York Marathon, which required no qualifying time to enter. Although it was her first marathon, she was credited with a time of 2:56.29, 23rd best among the women and good enough to qualify for the Boston race. And so she entered the Boston event, calling her mother, a seamstress in Miami Beach, on the eve of the race and saying, "Pray for me. I have to win." Replied Juana Ruiz, "I always pray for you, dear."
No sooner did Ruiz become the first woman to cross the finish line in Boston—in 2:31.56, the third-fastest marathon time ever for a woman—than the questions began. Observers noted that Ruiz' hair wasn't matted with perspiration, that she wasn't panting and that her thighs were too flabby for an accomplished runner. Dr. Yale Markle, a chiropodist on duty at the finish line, looked at Ruiz' feet, legs, ankles and shoes and said, "She definitely didn't run the whole race." Spotters who maintained checklists of runners at various points during the race had no record of seeing Ruiz. Two Harvard students said they had seen her slip out of a crowd of spectators and enter the race about half a mile from the finish.
Nonetheless, Ruiz stoutly contended she had run the whole 26 miles, 385 yards. "I don't know how to explain what I did," she said. "I just got up this morning with a lot of energy." At a press conference three days later, she tearfully denied she had cheated. But Ruiz was vague on details of the race ("How was I greeted at Wellesley? O.K. It was O.K. everywhere"), and she only heightened the prevailing skepticism when she released stress-test results giving her resting heart rate as 76; the rate for world-class women marathoners is usually in the 50s, sometimes even lower.
New York officials, meanwhile, were taking a closer look at Ruiz' performance in last October's marathon, especially after Susan Morrow, a freelance photographer, told of having met Ruiz on a subway during that race. Morrow said that Ruiz, who was wearing running clothes, had told her she had dropped out of the race with a sprained ankle, supposedly after running 10 miles. The two women, Morrow said, left the subway near Central Park and walked to the finish line of the marathon, where Ruiz asked to have her ankle treated. Officials speculate that at this point she was accidentally credited with her finishing time; at any rate, videotape taken of the finish line showed no sign of Ruiz. And a man who claimed to have met Ruiz while jogging in Central Park in March, Marty Craven, said, "She started telling me she knew this girl who cheated in the New York Marathon by taking the subway. And I started to tell her how easy it would be to cheat in Boston."
Last Friday, asserting that the evidence indicated that "Rosie did not finish the race," Fred Lebow, the director of the New York Marathon, voided Ruiz' finish in that event. Boston Marathon officials said they would decide early this week whether to disqualify her and award the victory to the runner-up, Jacqueline Gareau of Montreal. Organizers of both races were properly chagrined. One of the charms of road racing is that plodders have traditionally competed alongside champions, yet because of the running boom, some race promoters have lately invited charges of elitism by excluding recreational runners. Another charm of road racing is that it has operated largely on the honor system. That, too, regrettably, may have to change.