I have never understood cheaters. Whether it's in a friendly card game or in sports, it is a phenomenon and practice that I just don't get. "Cheaters never win and winners never cheat" is the old axiom. And whether it is by commission or omission, it's still heinous.
Ryan Braun. Lance Armstrong. Tyson Gay. Waldemar Cierpinski. Okay, the last name you may not recall, but the others are front and center news from this past month and this past year. Each swore they'd never cheat or take illegal substances. Each set outstanding performance markers in their various sports (Braun in baseball, Armstrong in bicycling, Gay in sprints and Cierpinski in the Olympic Marathon). And each misled their competitors and their fans. Cheaters.
Cierpinksi of East Germany won the 1976 Olympic marathon by 51 seconds over American Frank Shorter. Shorter has won the 1972 Olympic Marathon. Cierpinski was part of East Germany's state-sponsored doping program in an attempt to win medals.
Just like the East Germans of the 1970s, other well-known athletes and athletic programs have used dubious practices to garner victory, fame and reward. Ryan Braun was recently suspended by Major League Baseball and stands to lose $3.25 million in salary for missing 65 games. Imagine how big his entire salary REALLY is. Cheater.
Tyson Gay is/was the American record holder in the 100 meter dash, running the second fastest time ever (9.69 seconds), behind only Jamaican Usain Bolt. After a few years of dealing with injury, apparently he turned to illegal substances in order to reclaim his speed and health, and improve his chances at beating Bolt at the upcoming World Track Championships in Moscow. Guess what…. Cheater.
If you think this phenomenon of cheating lies only with the stars and professionals, think again. A number of years ago, a local runner faked a hamstring cramp in a local race, in order to stop and turn around early on an out-and-back 5k course. At the time, this runner was in 4th place after having bragged to a local paper about being "the top local runner in town." When they crossed the line in first place, everybody knew what had happened. Cheater. The local race was the Peach Festival and the local runner has since dropped off the radar screen of local races.
The allure of victory and the notoriety that comes along with it can be strong. Cheating is not confined to just the sports world, but cheating in sports is a nice "gateway drug" to cheating at school, business, taxes, etc.... Then, there's insurance fraud and bank fraud and all other kinds of fraud.
"I made a mistake" is often the refrain we hear. When someone makes a hasty decision to cheat, like turning around early in a local 5k race, that's a mistake. When someone injects themselves with steroids or human growth hormones over a period of time in order to win, that's no mistake. That's a calculated attempt at fraud.
Running's most famous fraud happened at the 1984 Boston Marathon, when Rosie Ruiz ran only the final half-mile of the race to finish in 2 hours, 31 minutes (which would have been the third fastest woman's time ever) to claim victory. That was calculated. And by the way, in 1982 Ruiz was arrested for embezzling $60,000 from her employer. Cheater.
After 35 years of running, I'd like to say I've never seen a cheater in my sport. Of course, I'd love to say I've never known of anyone to cheat at anything. But my fantasy land isn't realville. I do know that the vast majority (and I mean VAST majority) of runners have never even had the thought of cheating enter their mind. And that still makes me feel pretty good about lining up at the next race and running a fair contest. Deal me in. Just don't wear any sleeves, please.
Former Lock Haven University stand-out runner Andrew Shearer is the Middletown Athletic Club secretary/treasurer. Shearer has been running since 1978.