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On This Day: Rosie Ruiz Fakes Boston Marathon Victory

Last updated: February 13, 2023

On April 21, 1980, Rosie Ruiz won the Boston Marathon by entering the race near the finish line, ahead of all the other female runners. She was stripped of her victory eight days later.

Rosie Ruiz Cuts Ahead of Pack to Win Boston Marathon

Rosie Ruiz, an administrative assistant and part-time runner, had run her first marathon, the 1979 New York City Marathon, in two hours and 56 minutes, a time that qualified her for the 1980 Boston Marathon.

The 26-year-old stunned her competitors in Boston, setting the women’s record for the Boston Marathon with a time of 2:31. She was awarded the winner’s medal and laurel wreath, but almost immediately there were suspicions that she had not actually run the race.

Ruiz couldn’t recall the details of her route and she did not appear fatigued; “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that woman had run a marathon. She wasn’t tired enough,” said men’s winner Bill Rodgers.

Nobody remembered seeing her during the race and most observers had thought that the pack headed by Quebec native Jacqueline Gareau was the lead group of female runners. Marathon officials closely inspected television footage and photographs, but they could not spot Ruiz before the very end of race.

“One witness on the course insisted that she came out of the crowd from Charlesgate onto Commonwealth av. and jumped in approximately one half mile from the finish,” reported The Boston Globe.

Reports also surfaced that Ruiz may have cheated in the New York City Marathon, as she did not appear in any race videos. A photographer also said he had spoken with her on the subway. New York officials decided to rescind Ruiz’s finish in the race, which aided Boston Marathon director Will Cloney’s decision to do the same eight days after the marathon.

Ruiz’s antics stole attention from the real winner of the women’s race, Gareau, who was belatedly awarded her medal two weeks after the race.

Key Player: Rosie Ruiz

Sources in this Story

  • Sports Illustrated: Master and Mystery
  • The Boston Globe: Rosie Ruiz Pulls The Ultimate Prank
  • New York Daily News: Rosie Ruiz, 1980
  • Running Times: Rosie Ruiz Tries to Steal the Boston Marathon
  • It’s hard to call Rosie a cheat … in comparison
  • The New York Times: Backtalk; 20 Years Later, the Legend of Rosie Ruiz Endures
  • Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.): Rosie’s Run
  • Boston Athletic Association: History

Cuban-born Rosie Ruiz was working as an administrative assistant in New York when she ran the NYC Marathon. According to one theory explaining her motivation to cheat in the Boston Marathon, her boss was impressed by her performance and offered to pay for her to enter the Boston Marathon. Not wanting to disappoint him, she planned to enter the race in the middle of the pack, but mistakenly entered ahead of all the other women.

After the scandal, Ruiz lost her job and ran into trouble with the law. In 1982, she received five years probation for committing grand larceny and forgery at a real estate firm she worked. Eighteen months after that, she was arrested for trying to sell cocaine to undercover agents in Miami, earning her 23 days in jail.

Ruiz, now known as Rosie Vivas, was last heard to be living in Miami. She has never run another marathon and she has never admitted that she cheated.

Remembering Rosie’s Ruse

See more famous sports scandals.

The media was quick to jump on the comedy of the situation, and Ruiz is remembered fondly by many sports fans. “For eight days, she was the most amazing story the sport had ever seen. For 25 years, in all her resplendent dysfunction, Rosie Ruiz is still one of the best things to ever happen to the Boston Marathon,” Adrian Wojnarowski writes for ESPN.

Many runners, however, are far less forgiving of Ruiz’s stunt. “Road racing was supposed to be different,” Neil Amdur writes in The New York Times. “Long-distance runners, independent and eclectic, saw themselves as purists of mind, body and soul.”

History of the Boston Marathon

U.S. Olympic Team Manager John Graham instituted the Boston Marathon after being “inspired” by the Olympic marathon. On April 19, 1897, John J. McDermott of New York won the first Boston Marathon in a 15-member starting field.

Learn the history and myths behind the creation of the marathon race in 1896.

Running You Own Marathon

The findingDulcinea feature “Boston Marathon: Reasons to Run celebrates the Boston Marathon and provides inspiration for anyone considering a marathon run. The findingDulcinea Running Web Guide helps runners train so they can cross the finish line the honest way.

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