Boston Marathon saga ends; potential problems remain

Jacqueline Gareau has finally been declared the official women's winner of the 1980 Boston Marathon, ending perhaps the strangest saga in the 84-year history of America's most famous footrace. It certainly won't be the last such ordeal, however, unless officials of this and other major races start facing up to the serious problems being created by the burgeoning popularity of their sport.

Gareau, of course, is the petite Montreal runner who was hailed throughout most of the last 10 miles or so as the leading woman, crossed the finish line in ecstasy with a course record time of 2:34:28 -- and then looked up in disbelief to see unknown Rosie Ruiz of New York City sitting on the victor's stand.

Not too many other people believed that Rosie's time of 2:31:56 was for real either, and after a week-long investigation the Boston Athletic Association stripped her of the title on the basis of what seemed overwhelming evidence that she had not run the entire race.

With Gareau standing at his side, Marathon Director Will Cloney told a crowded news conference Tuesday -- eight days after the April 21 race -- that "information from our official checkers, from other highly credible observers, and from numerous members of the media whose sole assignment was to report on the women's race has enabled us to reach the conclusion beyond any reasonable doubt that Miss Jacqueline Gareau was the leading woman runner for the last 10 miles."

He added that more than 10,000 photographs taken with four high-speed cameras at a point approximately a mile from the finish showed clearly that Gareau was the first woman runner, and did not include any shots of Ruiz.

With that, Cloney placed a laurel wreath on the brow of the 5 ft. 2 in., 27 -year-old Canadian runner to the applause of the assembled reporters and photographers. She gave a brief capsule history of her career (seven previous marathons, including first in the women's division at Montreal and the third in new York last year). She spoke of the finish here a week ago -- especially of her pride in her time (fourth fastest ever for a woman, bettered) only by Grete Waitz of Norway twice and Joan Benoit of Cape Elizabeth, Maine). And Cloney promised that there would be an appropriate ceremony held in Boston for her sometime soon, awaiting only a time when men's winner Bill Rodgers can be present, since Gareau had said that one of her big disappointments had been missing the chance to share the winner's podium with him.

Even in her moment of triumph, however, the bulk of the questioning clearly showed that this was still -- and indeed always will be --win rather than the one Jackie Gareau did.

Ruiz had qualified for Boston on the basis of a recorded 2:56:29 time in the women's division of the New York Marathon -- her first and only other race at this distance -- but a few days prior to the decision in Boston her New York time was invalidated on the ground that she had not run the entire race there. This strengthened the BAA's position, of course, but cloney said the major factor still was his organization's own investigation.

Rosie, for her part, continues to insist that she ran the entire race, and Cloney, who met with her for nearly an hour the might before announcing the BAA's decision, said he is convinced that at this poin she really believes she did.

Asked what he tought her motivation might have been, he replied:

"I don't know. People want me to say she came up here with the intention of doing something wrong. I don't think so. If she did do anything wrong, I think it was on the spur of the moment. And at this point I am convinced that Rosie believes she ran the whole race."

The bigger question, though, is how difficult it would be for someone else -- perhaps someone who did have sinister motives -- to get away undetected with running less than the full 26 miles, 385 yards. And unfortunately, the answer seems to be that it wouldn't be very difficult at all.

Certainly the publicity attached to this year's controversy may put the idea in quite a few heads. And with the tremendous explosion in the popularity of running bringing big money into the sport via such things as corporate sponsorship and TV (top finishers in big races can command "expense money" running into thousands of dollars plus luxurious trips to various foreign countries) the temptation is getting bigger all the time too.

As for the opportunity, Cloney's explanation of the BAA investigation made it only too clear that they really couldn't tell much of anything for the first half of the race. This doesn't apply to the actual leaders, since they are closely monitored all the way. But when you have a race within a race (i.e., the women's division, or the master's section for runners over 40), you get a situation in which the leaders are strung out hundreds of runners back in the pack. In the mass confusion occasioned by a field of many thousand runners, it is just not that easy in the early stages to keep track of everyone -- or to be certain of preventing a fresh new runner from jumping in undetected several miles into the race.

It is indeed a problem -- and one that must be solved somehow now that big money, with its attendant ills as well as benefits, has come into the long distance running game.

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