If you think this phenomenon of cheating in sports lies only with the stars and professionals, think again. Sometimes runners have cheated, from marathons to community 5k races.
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 heinous.
The Houston Astros. Lance Armstrong. Russian track and field. Waldemar Cierpinski. OK, the last name you may not recall, but the others are big news in recent years. Each swore they’d never cheat, bend the rules or take illegal substances. Each were at the top in their various sports, as athletes and coaches – the Astros in baseball, Armstrong in bicycling, Russia in athletics and Cierpinski in the Olympic marathon. And each misled their competitors and their fans. Cheaters.
Cierpinski of East Germany won the 1976 Olympic marathon by 51 seconds over American Frank Shorter. Shorter had won the 1972 Olympic marathon. Cierpinski was part of East Germany’s state-sponsored doping program in an attempt to win medals. And boy, did they 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. The Houston Astros were recently pinched for stealing signs leading up to their 2017 World Series victory, which in the eyes of Major League Baseball is a big no-no. Cheaters.
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 2016 World Track Championships in Moscow. Guess what…. Cheater.
If you think this phenomenon of cheating lies only with the stars and professionals, think again. Several 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 fourth 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. Cheating happens in your backyard, too.
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 1980 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 1979 Ruiz ran the New York City marathon (being credited with a time that got her into Boston). She was retroactively disqualified from NYC as well. Cheater.
After 42 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 seen a unicorn. 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 makes me feel pretty good about lining up at the next race and running a fair contest. Deal me in.
I hope to see you on the roads, tracks and trails….
Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.