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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.”

Des Linden cracks open beer after satisfying Boston Marathon, future unclear

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BOSTON — Around mile 18, Des Linden thought to herself, “hang up the shoes, retire.” Then she thought about Gabe Grunewald, her Brooks Running teammate who has battled cancer several times in the last decade.

“I thought about every mile being for her and making it matter,” Linden said on NBCSN. “Be brave like Gabe.”

Linden, boosted by those feelings and the Boston crowd cheering on the defending champion, moved up from ninth place to cross the Boylston Street finish line in fifth, 3 minutes, 29 seconds behind Ethiopian winner Worknesh Degefa.

“Any time you finish top five in Boston, that’s a win,” she said on CBS Boston.

Linden, who last year became the first U.S. female runner to win the world’s oldest annual marathon since 1985, appeared to be getting emotional in the final strides before blowing kisses to the crowd.

“That was me almost vomiting,” she corrected in a post-race press conference. Minutes later, Linden cracked open a large beer can given to her by manager Josh Cox and left the dais.

Was it her goodbye to Boston? Linden is 35 years old and, even if she continues elite racing as expected, unlikely to race here next year given the Olympic Trials are Feb. 29. What’s next?

“Lunch, right now, for sure,” she said on NBCSN. “Then we’ll regroup.”

Linden certainly has motivation for one more Olympic try. She dropped out of her first Olympic marathon in 2012 with a stress fracture in her femur. She was seventh in Rio, missing a medal by less than two minutes.

But the U.S. women’s marathon field is deeper than ever. Take Jordan Hasay, the 27-year-old who finished third on Monday. Linden counseled Hasay as they jockeyed in the chase group behind Degefa, who broke away in the fifth mile.

“She’s going to have a breakthrough on this course,” Linden said of Hasay, who bounced back after withdrawing from spring and fall marathons in 2018 with heel fractures. “She’s going to make a name for herself. She is the future. Well, she is right now of American distance running.”

Hasay will definitely continue on, announcing she will race the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, eyeing 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor‘s American record of 2:19:36. Hasay became the second-fastest American in history at her second career marathon in Chicago in 2017, clocking 2:20:57.

On Monday, Hasay said she heard fans scream “Des” at her and was convinced they were mixing up the Americans. That sat just fine with her.

“Because I watch last year’s video all the time,” of Linden winning, Hasay said. “To be honest, I was still pretending I was her down the straightaway winning last year. I was sitting here, watching it, tearing up.”

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Jimmie Johnson just misses Boston Marathon goal, eyes return

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BOSTON — When Jimmie Johnson arrived in Boston for his first marathon, running less than two days after Saturday’s 400-mile NASCAR race, one of Meb Keflezighi‘s books was waiting in his hotel room, signed by the 2014 Boston Marathon champion himself.

When Johnson finished his first marathon in 3 hours, 9 minutes, 7 seconds on Monday, there was Keflezighi again. This time to present the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion his finisher’s medal.

“He congratulated me, was impressed with my time for a first-time marathoner,” said Johnson, who got into Boston via a Gatorade sponsor’s exemption but has run a 1:33 half marathon. “I invited [Keflezighi] to a car race, would love to connect with him and host him and show him what our world’s like at the race track.”

Johnson may be seeing Keflezighi again next year. The 43-year-old noted his time beat the 2020 Boston Marathon qualifying standard by 53 seconds for his age group.

“I would love to be able to try to break three [hours],” Johnson said 45 minutes after crossing the Boylston Street finish line, repeating his pre-race goal time. “I know for a fact it wasn’t in the cards today. I left on that number and was trying to hold it and just didn’t have it. I need to go back to the drawing board. I love that kind of challenge, and it’s going to weigh on me. … I just need to look at the schedule and see if it all lays out, and I can come back.”

Johnson said the transition from Saturday’s NASCAR race in Richmond, where he placed 12th, to the world’s oldest annual marathon was smooth. He felt strong on the starting line, though admitting the buzz of the Hopkinton start drained some energy.

“I couldn’t believe how many people did spot me,” he said. “It was loud, especially the closer we got to town. Once somebody would recognize me, the crowd would get going, and I could kind of egg them on.”

Johnson, wearing bib 4848 to correspond to his No. 48 Chevrolet, did get bragging rights over former NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray, who ran a 3:14 marathon in December.

“It’s always been of interest to me, endurance sports,” Johnson told NBC Sports before the race. “The year of the bombings, I realized that if the NASCAR schedule is right, with the marathon on a Monday, it’s something I can do. It just took from the year of the bombings until now for the opportunity.

“The stories of Boston and the energy and the excitement, the way the city is, it’s something I have to experience.”

Johnson also has triathlon and swimming experience, having trained in the same pool as U.S. Olympic swimmers in Charlotte, including taking tips from London 2012 200m backstroke gold medalist Tyler Clary.

He’ll take the finisher’s medal home, where he is sure his daughters will want to play with it. It will eventually rest in his office, along with three other trophies from the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and a season-long championship.

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