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Upstaged by Ruiz, Gareau finally gets her glory

Posted: Sunday, April 10, 2005

BOSTON — The cheers had died down by the time Jacqueline Gareau reached the finish line of the 1980 Boston Marathon. On the podium, Rosie Ruiz already was accepting the winner's wreath.

''In some way, I missed something. I missed the excitement of being received as a winner,'' Gareau said this week as she planned to return to Boston 25 years after Ruiz usurped her place on the victory podium. ''But being sad, being angry — not really. I feel sad for her. In some way, it's more unfortunate for her than me.''

Pending proof that Barry Bonds' or Mark McGwire's homers were powered by steroids, Ruiz remains perhaps the most brazen cheater in U.S. sports history. And Gareau is the forgotten victim.

Officially, she won the 1980 Boston Marathon. But Gareau was deprived of her chance to celebrate when Ruiz came out of the crowd about a mile from the finish and pretended to have won.

Although race officials were suspicious of Ruiz — an unknown who simply didn't look or act like she had just run a marathon — they deliberated for weeks while studying videotapes and other checkpoint evidence before concluding that she had not run the race.

Gareau was declared the winner.

''I knew for sure that I was the winner. I had no doubt at all,'' Gareau said this week in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. ''I just thought I was first until I heard someone tell me I was second. I didn't really believe it.

''Of course, when I finished I was really disturbed. I didn't like it. I couldn't understand how she could pass me.''

It turns out, she didn't.

At least, not on the course.

Although it's not clear how Ruiz got to Kenmore Square, a subsequent investigation showed she took the subway during the 1979 New York Marathon, which she used as her qualifying time for Boston. Ruiz has never wavered from her claim that she won fairly; she could not be located for comment.

''You could see by the way she entered the interview. When you do a course record, 2:31, you've got to be able to say what kind of training you do; you've got to look like a runner; you're not running with a cotton yellow T-shirt,'' Gareau said. ''You could see it completely.''

Gareau eventually got her medal and the wreath that goes to the winner (Boston did not award prize money until 1986). They even brought her back to Boston for a ceremony the next month to try to make it up to her.

Twenty-five years later, race officials are bringing her back to break the tape.

Gareau will be the grand marshal for the 109th edition of the race, successor to two-time champion and Boston Marathon patriarch Johnny Kelley, who died last fall. Ironically, she will not complete the course but will instead ride in a pace car, run the last block and finish first — for certain this time.

''It's going to be a symbolic thing. But for me, they did already enough,'' Gareau said from her native Montreal. ''It will be very, very exciting. When it happens, I will probably get goose bumps.''

Gareau has been back to the Boston race five times since 1980, with two genuine second-place finishes and two others in the top 10. She ran as a fundraiser in 1996, the massive 100th edition, but mostly has been competing in cross-country skiing and bicycle races while living in Boulder, Colo., and the Montreal suburbs.

She and her husband were partners in sporting goods stores before the Sept. 11 attacks cooled off the U.S. economy and they moved back to Canada.

''It's good to be home and we're starting over again,'' said Gareau, who is taking a massage therapy course and coaching some runners. ''I'm not completely out of it. I can still do the same things I like without being 'Marathon Lady.'''

In 1980, checkpoint officials concentrated predominantly on the men's race as they tried to scribble down the bib numbers of as many runners as they could. The first few women who ran by also would be recorded if possible.

In part because of Ruiz, race organizers have tightened their procedures since then.

Now, each of the more than 20,000 competitors expected to line up in Hopkinton on April 18 will be recorded at every checkpoint by a computerized chip tied to a shoelace. Video cameras also cover much of the course to allow verification afterward, if it should come up.

''It was not anything like we know it and have it today,'' Boston Athletic Association spokesman Jack Fleming said.

Ruiz was last known to be working for a real estate broker in the Miami area under the name Rosie Vivas.

It should be no surprise that Gareau has not kept in touch.

They have not spoken since January 1981, nine months after Boston, when Ruiz approached Gareau at a 10K run in Miami.

''She came to me and told me she was Rosie Ruiz and she wanted to talk to me. I didn't know too much what to say to her,'' Gareau said.

''She said, 'I ran it, and I will do it again,''' Gareau said. ''After that, I didn't really keep up the conversation.

''I just feel sad for her in some way. This is not a great life, to do things like that.''



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