There have been several marathon races and news of note over the last couple of weeks. I could blog about the IAAF’s recent decision to count women’s marathon world records in women-only races, or Patrick Makau’s new men’s world record of 2:03:38 set in Berlin, or the impressive times by Chicago Marathon winners Liliya Shobukhova (2:18:20) and Moses Mosop (2:05:37), or the amazing story of Amber Miller, who completed the Chicago marathon in 6:25:50 while 39 weeks pregnant and then gave birth to a baby girl Sunday evening.
Instead, however, the marathon news story that caught my eye came from the Kielder Marathon in Northumberland in the United Kingdom on Sunday, October 9, 2011. This marathon had 1,109 finishers, 1,108 of them legitimate. Rob Sloan started the race but at the 20 mile mark flagged down a bus driving spectators to the finish and caught a ride. He then got off the bus, went back on the course, and re-entered the course. He crossed the finish line in third place in 2:51:01. However, the real third place runner questioned the result and after spectators came forward to say they saw Sloan on the bus, Sloan was disqualified, by event director Steve Cram – yes, the THAT Steve Cram (1983 World Champion and 1984 Olympic silver medalist in the 1500 meters).
This cheater reminded me of another marathon cheater who got caught. This one took place almost ten years ago at the 2001 New York City Marathon. Martin Franklin used times from races that he likely cheated at to earn elite status for the 2001 NYC race. He started the race but then hopped on the subway where he was seen by several marathon fans, who noticed Franklin when he re-entered the race in Central Park and crossed the finish line, appearing to be the in nineteenth place and fifth American. LetsRun.com had expose on Franklin including pictures and called for his arrest for fraud. Steve Holman, an elite American 1500 meter runner in the 1990’s, wrote an open letter to Franklin that appeared in Runner’s World Daily (download it below). I still get a chuckle when I read Holman’s letter. My favorite part is when Holman questions why, if Franklin was going to cheat he, only came in nineteenth, “When you cheat, Martin, you have must have the courage to cheat with gusto. The only thing worse than a cheater is a cheater with low standards.”
All this cheating brings to mind
the posterchild for cheating at a marathon – Rosie Ruiz at the 1980 Boston Marathon. Taking an illegal shortcut during a race is now commonly referred to as “pulling a Rosie Ruiz.” The 26-year old Ruiz had only begun running 18 months before the 1980 Boston Marathon.
From a moral point of view, I believe cheating is just plain wrong. But the oft-overlooked backlash from cheating incidents like those described above is the harm it causes the rightful award winner. At the Keidler Marathon it was the real third place winner, Steve Cairns, who informed race officials about the cheater, Sloan. Although race officials disqualified Sloan and properly awarded Cairns third place, Cairns was robbed of intangible things that accompany placing third, such as being interviewed on television. “My prize will get forwarded to me, but he has stolen my glory and my moment on the podium,” said Cairns.
After the 1980 Boston Marathon, it took eight days until Ruiz was disqualified and for Jackie Gareau to be rightfully named the race champion with a time of 2:34:28. BAA officials did everything they could to make it up to Gareau, including staging a ceremonial finish in which she ran the final few yards of the race and broke the finish line tape as the winner. But that still doesn’t compare to the moment of having the winner’s wreath placed on her head on Boylston Street in front of thousands of cheering fans. That irreplaceable moment was stolen from Gareau by Rosie Ruiz. That fact is not lost on the BAA officials who continue to try to honor Gareau for her victory. They brought Gareau back on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1980 race to be the grand marshal for the 2005 race. Again in 2005, BAA officials staged a ceremony for Gareau where she got to recreate the end of her race by breaking the finish line tape. Gareau would continue to run marathons at a high level. Her marathon best was 2:31:27, she placed fifth at the 1983 World Championships Marathon, represented Canada at the 1984 Olympics, and was named the Canadian marathoner of the twentieth century. In 2010 Gareau was one of many former champions honored at the Boston Marathon. At the age of fifty-seven she ran the 2010 race in 3:44:17 on the thirtieth anniversary of the famous 1980 race.
Despite the evidence against her, Ruiz maintained her innocence and refused to return her first place medal. At that time, the winner of the women’s Boston Marathon received a medal that was smaller than what the winner of the men’s race got. BAA officials decided to present Gareau with a new medal, one that was the same size as the men’s winner and larger than the one Ruiz refused to return. After that, BAA officials kept the medals for the women’s winner and the men’s winner the same size. If one good thing came of this cheating incident, this would be it.
For those of you preparing for the NYC Marathon, Cal International Marathon, or any other race, get your training in and don’t even think about doing a “Rob Sloan,” “Martin Franklin” or “Rosie Ruiz.”