The Worst Race Cheats of All Time Slideshow
The Worst Race Cheats of All Time Slideshow
At the 2011 Kielder Marathon in Northumberland, Britain, Rob Sloan hopped a spectator bus at the 20-mile mark and rode it six miles to the race's finish area. There, he hid behind a tree until the other runners came into view and rejoined the race, crossing the finish line with a respectable time of two hours, 51 minutes and one second, good for third place. Only problems were that the bus driver and several passengers recognized him, the "fourth place" finisher didn't recall ever seeing Sloan in front of him and, well, Sloan was one of the only competitors to run the second half of the race faster than the first (and significantly so). He vehemently denied cheating in the face of mounting evidence, but eventually came clean.
Italian marathoner Dorando Pietri quite literally gave his all in the 1908 Olympic marathon. By the time he reached the Olympic stadium in London, he'd been in the lead for nearly two miles, but was delirious with exhaustion. He became lost and, when umpires redirected him, he collapsed to the ground. The umpires helped Pietri up, and he continued his final lap. He would collapse four more times in the final 350 meters, each time the umpires helping him to his feet until, 10 minutes later, he heroically won the race to a standing ovation. American Johnny Hayes finished second, and the American team immediately filed a complaint that Pietri had received illegal assistance from the umpires. The complaint was upheld, and Hayes took the gold medal.
Sometimes it's not the glory of winning that drives a person to cheat. Not exactly, anyway. For 30 young Chinese students who were caught gaming the 2010 Xiamen Marathon—hiring imposters, riding part of the route in cars and handing off their chip timers to faster runners—the stakes were higher than that. Runners who finished under two hours and 34 minutes could add points to their score in the gaokao, China's highly competitive university entrance exams. All 30 who were disqualified had finished in the top 100.
During the 1904 Olympics marathon, New Yorker Fred Lorz sped to the finish line in three hours 13 minutes—well ahead of the runner-up. He was posing for photographs, preparing to receive his gold medal and generally soaking in the afterglow of victory when organizers realized how he'd gotten so far ahead of the competition—by hitching an 11-mile ride in a passing car. The race was awarded to Thomas Hicks, a British-born American who, oddly, got a "second wind" when his trainers administered him a toxic combination of strychnine—rat poison—and brandy to overcome the day's staggering heat. Lorz maintained his shortcut was merely a joke and, after a brief reprimand, he was allowed to continue his running career. A good thing for him, because the very next year he won the Boston Marathon.
Sergio Motsoeneng came up with the perfect cheat to improve his performance in the 1999 Comrades Marathon, a grueling, 87-kilometer (54-mile) race between the South African cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Sergio ran the first 45 minutes, then exchanged vests and shoes with his twin brother in a mobile toilet along the route. Later in the race, they swapped again, allowing Motsoeneng to finish in a strong 9th place. The brothers' plan was flawless, save for one minor oversight—they wore their watches on opposite wrists. Suspicions were aroused when a newspaper published photos showing that and, under pressure, Sergio admitted his scam and gave up his R6,000 price (worth about $1,350 in today's U.S. dollars).
Norbert Sudhaus is, on this list, the equivalent of a streaker. His big cheat came during the 1972 Olympic marathon, but it wasn't a race he was really trying to win. For reasons that are still unclear, the West German student ran into Munich's Olympic stadium just ahead of the race leader, American Frank Shorter. Dressed head-to-toe as a runner, he started into his final lap and, initially, managed to fool some of the spectators (if not race announcers, as ABC's Erich Segal famously cried out, "It's a fraud, Frank!") garnering applause. The gig was quickly up, though, and Sudhaus was removed from the track after half a lap. A puzzled Shorter soon arrived on the track—much to his puzzlement—to the sound of the crowd booing Sudhaus. The bizarre incident made Shorter the third American to win the men's marathon gold medal and have his thunder stolen by an imposter, cheater or runner who was later disqualified.
Marion Jones (center) came home from the 2000 Sydney Olympics a national heroa powerful, graceful and beautiful symbol for everything that was right about women in sports. She captured the country's imagination with her bold plan to win five gold medals in track and field, and came away with three golds (100m, 200m, 4x400m) and two bronzes (4x100m, long jump). It wasn't until 2004 that Jones was caught up in the swirling debate of the BALCO steroid investigationthe same one that implicated Barry Bondsand her coach Trevor Graham testified before a grand jury that she'd been using performance-enhancing drugs during, and well before, the Sydney Games. In 2007, she finally admitted her guilt. Penniless and with her reputation soiled, Jones served a six-month prison term for lying to federal agents, completing her long fall from grace.
Perhaps the most illusive cheater of all time, Kip Litton's tale is befitting of a Sherlock Holmes story. A Michigan dentist who ran his first marathon in 2003, he began a quest to run a sub-three-hour marathon in every state with the reported goal of raising money for cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects his youngest son. Litton was apparently off to a good start, running elite-level times in several races across the West, but it didn't add up. In nearly every case, he had delayed starts, was photographed at the start and end of races but nowhere along the route, inexplicably changed his clothes along the route, was never recalled by other elite competitors and, in a few cases, fabricated entire races. Sniffed out by the running community, he's been disqualified from many of those races and his competitive career appears in dormancy. As for how he pulls off the hoaxes, only Litton knows.
In fact, the mystery of how he does it even inspired a nearly 10,000-word investigative story in The New Yorker by journalist Mark Singer, in which the befuddled writer concluded: "It came down to this: at the Boston Marathon, the oldest, most prestigious, and most professionally managed event on the American racing calendar, Litton had hit every split, changed his clothes along the way, and broken three hours. No one but Litton could say how he did it."
Stella Walsh, one of the world's most dominant female track and field athletes of all time, got away with her cheat for a very long time. She won a 100 meter gold medal representing her native Poland at the 1932 Olympics, and took silver at the 1936 Games. Though she was born Stanlislawa Walasiewiczowna, her parents Anglicized her name when she way young after emigrating to Cleveland, Ohio. It was there that she based her successful career in which she set 20 women's track and field world records, won 41 AAU titles and, in 1975, was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame. It wasn't until 1980, when the 69-year-old was gunned down during an armed robbery, that medical examiners discovered Stella had male genitalia. Not only that, but she also possessed both XX and XY chromosomes, which has caused much debate as to whether she was, in the end, a man or a woman.
The most famous (or infamous, depending on your view) cheater of all time, Rosie Ruiz was the apparent winner of the female category of the 1980 Boston Marathon, crossing the finish in a course record time of two hours, 31 minutes and 56 seconds. It didn't take long for her trick to be discovered, though. For starters, she didn't look like an elite marathoner. Her body—which didn't seem lean enough—wasn't coated in sweat like the others, and she barely seemed out of breath. Her time represented an otherworldly improvement of over 25 minutes on her reported performance in the New York Marathon (the race that had qualified her for Boston) only weeks before. None of the top competitors, nor official race spotters, recalled seeing her on the course, and she didn't appear in any photos or video footage. Eventually, two Harvard students came forward, saying that they'd seen Ruiz burst from a crowd of spectators in the final half-mile. Not long after that, a New York photographer reported meeting Ruiz on the subway during the New York Marathon and escorting her to the race finish area. She was disqualified from both races then, and the Boston victory was awarded to Jacqueline Gareau.