Nation on the March

Nation on the March
Nation on the March

Apr 18, 2010

Rosie Ruiz (Fake), Jacquelin Gareau (Real), Cigarette addiction and 114 years of Boston Marathon: What a heady cocktail !

 In celebration of the great Boston Marathon 
, in its 114th year, being held tomorrow , 
Monday, 19th April  

Pheidippides died about  2,500 years, killed by too much exercise. To be precise, he ran from  Marathon to Athens to report a Greek military win. Exhausted, he collapsed and died, giving us not only the marathon but also the myth of the marathon runner.

It is also known as Marathon Monday in Boston, because, since 114 Years, the marathon race is run here!

And it is no ordinary marathon race. Read on :

  1. When the first (modern day) Olympic games were held in Athens in 1896 and marathon even was first time conducted, the manager of the Boston Athletics Association who was present there decided that in his home town, they will also start this event and thus, very next year, in 1897, Boston Marathon was born.
  2. Till 1920, it was the only marathon event in the world (outside Olympic games of course)
  3. The Boston Marathon is the oldest annual city marathon in the world
  4. In 1897 when only 18 runners entered the race. In tomorrow's  Boston Marathon about 25,000 people are expected to contend, cheered on by 500,000 spectators.
  5. The Boston Marathon ranks as one of the most prestigious running events in the world, because of the long history of the race, the challenging course and the fact that in order to qualify, every runner must have finished a certified marathon within a certain time frame determined by the age of the runner. 
The legendary course of the Boston Marathon has been the same throughout most of the history of the race. Interestingly,
    1. At one point during the marathon, the finishers are honoured with free food and massages  
    2. The last of the four hills is known as Heartbreak Hill. ( Why this name? The story says that in the 1936 race defending champion, John A. Kelley, caught up with race leader, Ellison ‘Tarzan' Brown, and gave him a consolatory pat on the shoulder as he passed him. Instead of consoling him, this odd gesture apparently gave Tarzan supernatural strength, and surprised Kelley win the race in front of Kelley. This ‘broke Kelley’s heart’!)

For various personal reasons, individuals are reaching Boston USA to participate in the 114th Marathon that will be run tomorrow, i.e. Monday, the 19th April.

No American has won it since 1983 so there many US  nationals eyeing the event to break this stigmatic record.

Many are struck on the other side of the Atlantic, due to the volcanic ashes fro Iceland, which is not allowing the air traffic from Europe to USA. Among those going to be there are past champions some past winners.

But, all eyes will be on marathon champion Jacqueline Gareau who won the (real) medal 30 years ago and returns to Boston once again in 2010 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of her victory and course record performance. Why the need for the "real" qualifier before every mention of Gareau's triumph? 

Because she was the victim of one of running's most infamous cheats: Rosie Ruiz.
Neither Gareau nor Boston (and the athletic world) has forgotten that bizarre and sensational drama that was enacted 39 years ago.

Gareau worked in a Canadian hospital. She had qualified by running the required qualifying marathon in Canada. It was 21st April, 1980. At Boston, she was not properly allowed to start the race from the front line but was asked to start from much behind (or else be driven out of the race). She silently accepted and lost precious seconds in the initial stage itself.
Undaunted. she went past several competitors and every one was applauding her that she is going to be the winner. She was quite thrilled at her performance.

But when she finally reached the finishing line, to her surprise there was no ribbon waiting for her to race through! And she was told that she came only second!
To her surprise, she saw that on the podium at the award distribution ceremony, some unknown participant was standing all smiles and receiving the medal.
Gareau had a hospital duty to attend the very next day . Exhausted fro the run and with a heavy heart, she returned to Canada  same evening.

The winner's  name was announced as ( Cuba born)  Rosie Ruiz from USA! Rosie claimed that she had participated in the New York marathon and got the required qualifying certificate for participating in Boston Marathon.
Interesting, she did not appear very tired, looked fresh, did not heavily sweat on body and underarms. All this was amazing.

Later on, it was found out that she did not qualify even at New York Marathon ( because part of the distance she had covered by the Metro Train with a NY Times journalist), joined the crowd later, pretended to be injured, went for first aid and the organizers issued her the much required qualifying certificate!
In Boston Marathon too, she was watching as a spectator, at a location just one last mile before the finishing line, smartly jumped the barricade and started marathon as though nothing had happened.
Ruiz took the medal home. For one week the organizers struggled for evidences about the fraud. Ruiz remained as official winner for those seven days!

New York marathon disqualified her first. Then Boston Marathon announced Jacqueline Gareau as the real winner. But Ruiz did not agree to return the medal she had wrongly claimed. A new medal was struck for Gareau!
It is 30 long years but even today Gareau, the Canadian Olympian and winners of several medals and trophies, is confronted with questions about her fake rival. She replies them politely and gracefully, saying no harsh words.

Interestingly, she had no formal training in athletics except some activities that were popular in her rural settings. Once in the urban life, she started smoking half a packet of cigarettes a day. Her father had died of cancer and she was determined to quit smoking and switched over to new physical activities and sports. Ultimately, the cigarettes became a matter of past and she was crowned with a medal, that made her more famous than many others who won the most prestigious marathon in the world in past 113 years!

Banned for life from Boston Marathon, Ruiz was arrested two years later in 1982 for stealing $60, 000 in cash & cheques from her employers and briefly jailed.

Even a hundred years later, Rosie Ruiz legend will continue to live, although her claim to the fake glory lasted only for seven days!