Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Running With Cheaters

In 2011 I travelled to Austin Texas for the Livestrong ½ Marathon. I was having a great year and traveled to Texas with a big personal record (PR) in mind. As it turned out, the course was much tougher than I expected, not conducive to a PR. Midway through the race, as I struggled with thoughts of turning a PR attempt into a training run, I was caught by a group of runners, which happened to include Lance Armstrong and Joan Benoit Samuelson. So, instead of quitting on my PR attempt, I caught a second wind and led our small group of runners for several miles. Eventually Lance would pull away from me, but I went on to knock 10 seconds off my previous half marathon PR! My full race report from then can be found here.

Of course I was excited about the experience. Not only had I run a ten second PR, bettering a time from eight years prior, but I had run with and briefly led one of my sporting heroes, Lance Armstrong. I definitely posted about the experience on Facebook and Twitter (even though I don’t tweet often):

Knowing that I ran several miles of the race with Lance, I spent hours scouring the internet trying to find a photo of me running with him.  I had purchased the official race photos but I really wanted to find one of Lance and I. It took a lot of searching, there are a lot of photos of Lance on the internet, but I finally found one!
Lance was the focal point of the photo, but hidden behind Lance, you could see my distinct orange shoes and my blue tank top.  Of course, we all know now, Lance was a lying cheater who used legal intimidation, accusations of a “witchhunt by the French”, and the “I’ve been tested hundreds of times and never failed a drug test” line, to avoid being labeled a cheater for many years despite rumors and suspicion of his drug use.
I learned about Michael Rossi the same way many people did, the “viral open letter” he wrote.  Mike Rossi ran the 2015 Boston Marathon and took his two young school aged children and wife with him, making a family vacation out of the experience. Shortly after, Mike received a standard letter from his children’s principal informing him that this trip would count as an unexcused absence against his kids. Mike promptly wrote an “open letter” to the principal and published it on his Facebook page and various other social media outlets, but he never actually mailed it to the principal. The open letter was scathing and it quickly went viral. I must admit, on first blush, the letter struck a nerve with me as I tend to react negatively to the ever encroaching arm of government into family matters. I promptly forgot about the whole deal until I happened to see a thread on letsrun.com – “Did Mike Rossi (viral marathon dad) cheat his way into Boston?”

As it turns out, the “educational experience” that Mike Rossi had taken his two children on was achieved through an act of cheating; Mike Rossi never ran a Boston Qualifying marathon time! How do we know that?
1.    Lack of physiological ability – He did not have the physiological ability to run a 3:11 marathon when he supposedly ran one
2.    Lack of publicity – He didn’t publicize his PR/Boston BQ on social media like he would have if it were legit
3.    Lack of photos – There is not a single photo of him on the race course besides the finish, yet every other runner in the marathon was photographed multiple times
Letsrun.com has written an excellent article that thoroughly covers all of these points. However, pulling a page out of Lance Armstrong’s playbook, Mike Rossi apparently lawyered up threatening Letsrun.com with a defamation lawsuit so their well written article has remained unpublished behind the password “rossi” on their website.
When I ran my PR in Austin, I tweeted about it, I let everyone know and it was only a 10 second PR. Mike Rossi at the age of 47 supposedly ran his first marathon in a time of 3:11:45, qualifying for Boston in the process. His half marathon PR at the time was 1:40:44, so he ran back to back half marathon PRs of 1:35:52, yet he remained silent on social media, even after he had posted this to his social media several days before the marathon:

That's because he didn't actually run a 3:11:45, it didn’t happen, he cheated! He was quite about it because he didn't want to draw attention to his unbelievable time before he had actually gotten into and run the Boston Marathon.
Following my half marathon PR, there were a bunch of official race photos of me. In addition to the official photos, I found the photo of Lance and I from on the course. At the 2014 Via Marathon, thousands of official photos were taken. Additionally, thousands of photos can be found online at various news outlets, but not a single photo of Mike Rossi exists from the Via Marathon course (besides the finish) because he didn’t run the marathon, he is a marathon cheat!
The whole Mike Rossi saga has unfolded through various news articles, but the primary and continuing story is taking place on a letsrun.com message board thread I mentioned before which can be found here: http://www.letsrun.com/forum/flat_read.php?thread=6479539&page=0 It is by far the longest thread on letsrun, should be topping 10,000 posts soon! I came across this thread fairly early on and followed it with interest as various runners crowd sourced the daunting task of looking through all the official race photos and identifying runners. While I was convinced fairly early on based upon the physiological aspect that Mike Rossi is a cheater, the photographic evidence was conclusive. I was fully convinced and thought a DQ of Rossi’s time by the race director of Lehigh Valley Via Marathon was a no-brainer. When the DQ didn’t happen, I (along with many others) was surprised and quite frankly disgusted.
I was already open with my belief that Rossi had cheated and was not being anonymous on letsrun.com, using the registered username – triathleteguru. When a runner on the forum had difficulty converting an animated gif to video so it could be uploaded to Youtube, I stepped in and helped converting the gif to video and uploading it to Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxKfEiOfGmY

The following day, Mike Rossi tweeted this:
followed by this (after a few unrelated tweets):
An 06' photo of me following a near death collision with a van in a triathlon
I am fairly certain he’s the one who posted this on the letsrun forum as well:

Taken as a whole, all of these are intimidation attempts, possibly even death threats. The threats and intimidation tactics go well beyond what has been directed at me. Several other regular posters on the Rossi thread have received direct communication from Mike Rossi that are veiled threats and even the children of some of his skeptics have been targeted. So much for “Father of the year”!
Do all cheaters, when confronted with evidence they cheated resort to threats and intimidation tactics? Those of you who know me well know that I was very vocal, you might say obsessive with Lance Armstrong and his cheating. I spent years as a fan of Lance, had books, videos, and posters, I still find myself googling his name occasionally and catching up on the latest Lance news.  He tried to threaten and intimidate his critics, how did that work for him? In the end, Lance was exposed for the cheat he was.
Mike, do you think you’re better than Lance?  It is obvious to me and anyone with half a brain you cheated. I understand lots of people cheat. The desire for attention, fame, glory, money, these are all motivating factors. With Lance, he was a great athlete who cheated to become even greater. I still consider it an honor to have led him in a race. Mike, you are an average runner who cheated your way to running Boston, but you remain an average runner, running a “scintillating” 4:01 at Boston. I don’t take kindly to your threats and intimidation tactics. You can become better, I have no doubt you could train and run a legitimate BQ time. You can also become a better person by admitting to your cheating, stop living a lie. I have nothing against you personally; I just can’t stand the threatening, lying, and cheating!

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