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Rosie Ruiz, Boston Marathon course cutter, dies at 66

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BOSTON (AP) — Rosie Ruiz, the Boston Marathon course-cutter who was stripped of her victory in the 1980 race and went on to become an enduring symbol of cheating in sports, has died. She was 66.

Ruiz, who was also known as Rosie Vivas, died in Florida of cancer on July 8, according to an obituary that made no mention of her Boston Marathon infamy. Running magazine first made the connection this week, a fitting end to one of the oddest chapters in the history of the race.

“It’s a colorful part of the Boston Marathon history, that’s for sure,” said Bill Rodgers, who won the men’s race that year and was immediately suspicious of the woman sitting next to him on the awards podium. “Poor Rosie, she took all the brunt of it.”

An unknown who didn’t look or act like she had just run 26.2 miles, Ruiz finished first in the women’s division in Boston in 1980 in a then-record time of 2 hours, 31 minutes, 56 seconds. Even as she was awarded her medal and the traditional olive wreath, her competitors wondered how a woman they hadn’t ever heard of — or seen on the course — could have won.

“We knew that she had jumped in. We, who knew what the marathon was, we got it,” Rodgers told The Associated Press on Thursday. “She wasn’t sweating enough; she had on a heavy shirt; she didn’t know about running.

“I was with her the next day on TV, and she was just crying her head off,” Rodgers said, adding that he thought Ruiz wanted to confess. “If she had just said, ‘I’m sorry. I made a mistake.’ Runners — we all drop out of races — we would have understood.”

In an era before tracking chips and electronic checkpoints, race organizers used spotters to scribble down the bib numbers of runners going by. (They focused mainly on the men’s race.) Ruiz did not show up there, on videotape or in any of 10,000 photographs taken along the first 25 miles of the course.

Grilled by the Boston Athletic Association about her training methods and pace, she had no answers and did not seem to recognize terms that would be common for elite marathoners; she also could not identify landmarks she would have passed on the course. Two Harvard students soon came forward to say they saw her join the race near Kenmore Square, about a mile from the finish.

Ruiz was stripped of her title eight days after the race. Canadian Jacqueline Gareau was declared the rightful winner and brought back to Boston the next month to receive her due.

“People, they’re still sorry for me. But at the same time I think they should feel sorry more for her,” Gareau, who also came in second in Boston twice and had two other top-10 finishes, told the AP.

“Like everybody says, she’s part of my life. I cannot separate from her because of that story. She’s not a friend, but she’s been there so long.

“I wish she would have contacted me some time and said ‘I’m so sorry,’ but no,” Gareau said. “She would have probably had a better life and felt better.”

It was never established how Ruiz got to Kenmore Square, but the ensuing investigation showed she took the subway during the 1979 New York City Marathon to obtain her qualifying time for Boston.

The B.A.A. declined to comment on her death.

Ruiz always maintained that she won the race fairly and never returned the medal she received on race day. (Gareau was given a substitute.)

Ruiz vowed to run Boston again, to prove that she could do it.

She never did.

Gareau said she bumped into Ruiz at a 10K run in Miami in 1981, about nine months after Boston.

“She presented herself to me, she said ‘Hi, I’m Rosie Ruiz.’ I just said, ‘Hi,’” Gareau recalled. “She still told me she won. So I didn’t really discuss it with her.”

Born in Havana, Cuba, Ruiz came to the United States as an 8-year-old and settled with relatives in the Miami area. According to the obituary posted by the Quattlebaum Funeral, Cremation and Event Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, she studied piano at Wayne State College in Nebraska, moved to New York for five years and then back to Florida, where she worked as an accounts manager for a medical laboratory and as an accreditation specialist for the Better Business Bureau.

She married Aicaro Vivas in 1984 and the couple divorced 2 1/2 years later. According to the obituary, she is survived by her domestic partner, Margarita Alvarez, and a brother, Robert Ruiz.

The marathon shortcuts were not Ruiz’s only — or most serious — transgressions: The Boston Globe reported that she was arrested in New York on charges of stealing $60,000 in cash and checks from her employer in 1982. A year later, she was sentenced to three years of probation for cocaine trafficking.

“She had a family. She was a loving person. She studied music, which tells me she did some good stuff in her life. But then this part of her life was a little bit weird. Never admitting it, too,” Gareau said. “I would not like to be in her place.”

Lin Dan, badminton legend, retires: ‘It is very difficult to say goodbye’

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Lin Dan, arguably the greatest badminton player in history, announced retirement Saturday, citing “pain and injuries” in bowing out a year before the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

“I have been with the national team from 2000 to 2020, and it is very difficult to say goodbye,” 36-year-old Lin wrote to his four million Weibo fans, according to Badminton World Federation (BWF) translation. “Pain and injuries no longer allow me to fight with my teammates. I have gratitude, a heavy heart and unwillingness.”

Lin, nicknamed “Super Dan,” won Olympic singles titles in 2008 and 2012, plus five individual world titles. It’s the greatest resume for any badminton player from China, which owns twice as many medals as any other nation in the sport that debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

He competed at the last four Olympics, won the sport’s Super Grand Slam (nine major titles) and had his own wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai.

Lin’s outbursts on and off the court led to some calling him the John McEnroe of badminton, but he is revered. In 2015, he was the second athlete on Forbes China‘s most popular celebrities list behind tennis player Li Na.

Lin’s pursuit of a fifth Olympics in Tokyo was looking out of reach. He dropped to No. 26 in the Olympic qualifying rankings, trailing four countrymen, including No. 5 Chen Long (Rio Olympic champion) and No. 11 Shi Yuqi (2018 World silver medalist). A nation can qualify a maximum of two individual players per gender for the Games.

“From where came his mastery? In short, his prowess was essentially due to the completeness of his game – in skill, physical ability and mental strength,” the BWF wrote in a press release. “Such was his craft that even well into his 30s, normally considered an advanced age for men’s singles, he could outplay younger and fitter opponents.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

MORE: Who is China’s greatest Olympian?

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MyKayla Skinner’s motivation for Tokyo: her Rio Olympic experience

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MyKayla Skinner remembers the little room at the SAP Center in San Jose. She remembers the wait, somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.

After the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Trials, the competitors (14 total performed) assembled while a selection committee convened in another space.

The committee finalized the five-woman Olympic team (plus three alternates), marched into the athletes’ room and delivered the verdict.

“They say the first four names, and then there’s that one spot left,” Skinner recalled. “I’m like, is it going to be me? You’re so tense just waiting there. All of us holding each other’s hands in the room. We’re all sitting there. It’s just, like, frozen dead silent. Then they say that fifth spot.”

Skinner doesn’t remember who was the fifth name. Just that it wasn’t her.

“I just broke down crying,” she said in a recent interview. “All that hard work I put in still wasn’t good enough. Even though it was. It’s just who they needed for the team.”

Skinner placed fourth in the all-around at those Olympic Trials, the highest finisher who was not named to the Olympic team. She was one of three alternates. If the Olympic team was chosen by all-around standings, a selection committee would not be necessary. Instead, gymnasts are puzzle pieces, chosen as who best fits the Olympic format: three gymnasts per apparatus in the team final and up to two per nation per individual final.

Skinner’s mind raced while she waited for the committee’s decision. She eventually settled on a gut feeling, that she would not make the team.

“I thought that it should be enough, but at the same I didn’t think that it would be,” said Lisa Spini, Skinner’s coach at Desert Lights Gymnastics in Chandler, Arizona. “I thought the team was already decided before the Olympic Trials.”

Spini said it was her toughest night as a gymnastics coach.

“Being an alternate is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in gymnastics,” said Skinner, who traveled to Brazil and, with fellow alternates Ashton Locklear and Ragan Smith, trained separately from the Olympic team. “The whole time I was in Rio, I probably cried every single night

“The Olympics should be something so special, but I feel like it was definitely miserable at times. It was really hard to enjoy being an alternate. With this comeback, that has pushed me so hard just because I was so close.”

You may have read about Skinner back in the spring, after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed to 2021.

It’s a devastating delay for a female gymnast, whose peak often lasts for one Olympic cycle (sometimes even shorter). Skinner is an exception, excelling for the better part of a decade on different levels.

She made her first world championships team in 2014. After Rio, she matriculated at the University of Utah, where she was twice an NCAA all-around runner-up and hit an NCAA record 161 straight routines without a fall. In 2019, she decided to come back to international competition — for an Olympic run — with one year left of NCAA gymnastics.

She is 23, the oldest of the 16-woman U.S. national team. She is trying to become the oldest woman to make a U.S. Olympic gymnastics team since 2004. And the first with NCAA experience to do so since Alicia Sacramone in 2008.

“The reason why a lot of college gymnasts couldn’t come back and do it is they’ve been so injured over the years,” Spini said. “Their body wouldn’t hold up. She’s been really lucky that way.”

Skinner could have easily followed the path of so many other stars who signaled the end of an elite career by going to college, where training and routines are less demanding.

She questioned herself often after the Tokyo postponement whether it was worth it to return to elite training. The Olympic team event roster size has been cut from five to four. Simone Biles is an overwhelming favorite to earn one spot. In the face of those odds, Skinner can’t shake a memory from Rio.

“I just go back to the moment of when I was sitting in the stands,” watching the Final Five earn gold, Skinner said. “I was so close to making the team. This has been my dream ever since I went to Desert Lights when I was 12.”

Skinner’s comeback is already a success. Last year, on three months of elite training, she placed eighth at the U.S. Championships. She was convinced to accept an invitation to the world championships selection camp, where six women would make the traveling team (one later named an alternate).

Like in 2016, Skinner placed fourth in the all-around competition before the roster was chosen.

Again, the gymnasts gathered for the announcement. This time, Skinner made the cut as the sixth woman named. Biles, the other 20-something at the camp and a friend, jumped in excitement.

The team traveled to Germany in late September. After training, one woman had to be designated the alternate. High performance team coordinator Tom Forster took Skinner aside one day on the way to lunch. She knew what was coming and broke down in tears, flashing back to 2016.

“Simone was like, hey, let’s go to the bathroom. She helped talk me through it and helped me calm down and definitely made me a feel a lot better,” said Skinner, who supported Biles and the U.S. team that competed in Stuttgart. She then wed Jonas Harmer in November and decided what must be done to make the Olympic team.

“We’re going to try to add in some big skills, which will put her difficulty level, probably, second only to Simone,” Spini said.

Skinner is documenting her last year-plus in elite gymnastics on a YouTube channel with 29,000 subscribers. She has been fortunate during the coronavirus pandemic to train at her gym if no more than 10 people were present. Many other gymnasts — and athletes across Olympic sports — spent weeks or months out of their facilities.

“I definitely don’t think I would have been able to have that much time off,” she said. “That’s really hard with gymnastics because you feel like, you take two days off, and it’s like you had a year off.”

One day this spring, Skinner’s mom called, in tears, fearing for her life with an illness that turned out to be the coronavirus. Both of her parents, in their 60s, had it and briefly lost their senses of taste. Her mom had breathing problems, but they recovered.

One night last month, Skinner had a dream about next year’s Olympic Trials. The Final Five all came back to compete, and Skinner was again named an alternate. She woke up. Skinner doesn’t know how she would handle that kind of disappointment in real life, again.

“So it’s kind of scary,” she said. Then Skinner thinks back to Rio, and that burning she felt while watching the Final Five win gold medals.

“This is what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m meant to do is elite gymnastics,” said Skinner, who was born via life-threatening, early-labor C-section, needing to be revived by doctors. “I think it’s cool that I can have this opportunity to go and push myself one last time so I can reach that end goal.”

MORE: Gymnast Grace McCallum won a coin flip to become world champion

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