Rosie Ruiz, age 26, finishes first in the women’s division of the Boston Marathon with a time of 2:31:56 on April 21, 1980. She was rewarded with a medal, a laurel wreath and a silver bowl; however, eight days later Ruiz is stripped of her victory after race officials learned she jumped into the race about a mile before the finish line.
The Cuban-born Ruiz, an administrative assistant from New York City, qualified for the 84th Boston Marathon by submitting her time for running the 1979 New York City Marathon. Although Ruiz never explained why she cheated, it has been suggested her boss was so impressed she qualified for the prestigious Boston race that he offered to pay her way. It’s believed that Ruiz intended to jump into the middle of the pack of runners but miscalculated when she joined the marathon one mile from the end, not realizing she was ahead of the other 448 female competitors.
Ruiz was unknown in the running world and her victory raised suspicions because it was a 25-minute improvement over her New York City Marathon time. Additionally, her winning time was then the third-fastest marathon time in history for a woman. After studying race photographs–Ruiz didn’t appear in any of them until the very end–and conducting interviews, Boston Marathon officials stripped Ruiz of her title on April 29, 1980, and named Jacqueline Gareau of Canada the women’s division champion with a time of 2:34:28. Ruiz’s New York time was later invalidated when officials discovered she had taken the subway during part of the race.
The controversy surrounding Ruiz overshadowed Bill Rogers, who won the men’s division of the 1980 Boston Marathon for a record fourth year in a row. At the 2005 Boston Marathon, Jacqueline Gareau served as grand marshal and re-enacted her 1980 marathon performance by breaking the tape. After her cheating was revealed, Ruiz, who maintained she had won the Boston Marathon fairly, lost her job in New York. She encountered further trouble in 1982 when she was accused of stealing money from an employer. The following year, she was caught selling drugs to undercover officers in Florida. In both cases, Ruiz served brief stints in jail. Ruiz died in 2019 in Florida.
The first Boston Marathon was run on April 19, 1897. Women were officially allowed to compete in the race starting in 1972. Following the Ruiz incident, race officials instituted tighter security measures to prevent future episodes of cheating.