Amazing Tales From the Boston Marathon

Rosie Ruiz is shown moments after crossing the finish line as the apparent women's race winner of the 84th Boston Marathon in 1980.
Rosie Ruiz is shown moments after crossing the finish line as the apparent women's race winner of the 84th Boston Marathon in 1980.
David Madison/Getty Images

Runners dressed as Forrest Gump, Elvis, Bozo the Clown and the Cat in the Hat all crossed the finish line in front of me at the Boston Marathon one year.

So did a shirtless participant running backwards, possibly in search of a Nike endorsement. A magic marker message was scrawled where you'd expect to see his chest: "Backwards Man -- It Do Just."

"In front of me" is not the same as "ahead of me." "Ahead" would suggest movement on my part, perspiration even. Not standing at the finish line as stationary as Boston's North Church taking notes for a story on the 100th anniversary of the greatest American road race.

The Kenyan winner that year, Moses Tanui, crossed the finish line, bowed his head to accept the victor's wreath and proceeded to answer questions without a hint of breathlessness. He spoke as calmly as if he'd arrived by subway—which runner Rosie Ruiz (above) did one year, but more on her later.

Tanui has since retired so he won't be competing in the 115th Boston Marathon on the third Monday of April. But the runner who caught my attention at the centennial race will return, once again pushing his son, Rick, in a wheelchair, and no doubt inspiring more people than all the wreath-crowned champions in the history of the event.

Let's Roll

Dick Hoyt is 70. Last year's Boston Marathon was the 1,000th race the Hoyts completed. That number includes 28 Boston Marathons and 238 triathlons.

Triathlons involve swimming, biking and running. So Dick Hoyt straps a small craft to his back and pulls his son through the water, and pedals him on a reconfigured bicycle to the bike-run transition area. They have completed six Ironman triathlons (2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2 mile run).

Rick Hoyt is 49 now. His cerebral palsy was traced to oxygen deprivation at birth. Using a computer to communicate, he got his degree from Boston University. The first computer-aided words he typed as a kid: "Go Bruins."

When Dick Hoyt realized how much his young son loved sports, he took him fishing, tying a string to his finger. He pushed him around the baseball diamond.

Hockey was a favorite of Rick's. So the father strapped bars to the back of a sled and used the blades of the sled as a hockey stick.

Running was Rick's idea. Their first race was a local five-miler.

They finished next-to-last. But Rick Hoyt told his father he didn't feel "handicapped" when running. That's all Dick Hoyt needed to hear.

Their first Boston Marathon together, they entered unofficially. The Boston Marathon, after all, is not for the beginner. While allowances are made for non-qualifying runners, most runners have to meet strenuous qualifying standards.

In 1980, their first Boston, the race was made famous by the cheating Ruiz, who took the subway, jumped into the race late, was crowned champ and stripped of the title eight days later.

The Hoyts couldn't get a number that year. The Boston Athletic Association told them they needed to qualify like everyone else. And at the specified time for Rick's age group.

He was 18. The Hoyt's had to qualify at 2 hours, 50 minutes. Fast. They eventually ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2:45 to qualify both of them.

The day I watched the Hoyts finish Boston, the ovation was long and loud. They had been honored as "Centennial Heroes" at a function the same week.

"We've come a long way," Dick Hoyt said that day. "Just to run the 100th Boston Marathon is satisfaction enough. Sometimes today my feet weren't even touching the ground."

Two years later, inspired in part by watching the Hoyts, I ran my first marathon.

Fifteen years later, Team Hoyt is scheduled to compete at Boston again. May the wind always be at their back.

Fun Facts and Oddities

• The starting line at the first Boston Marathon in 1897 was a heel dug in the dirt and scraped across the road. A "handler" accompanied each runner on bicycle. No word on whether they were licensed paramedics.

• A Boston Herald story in the mid-1950s carried a warning: "No weaklings will be permitted to start the marathon tomorrow." Doctors declared three runners "unfit." They ran anyway and finished in the Top 10.

• The irony is the race that did so much to popularize running in America and fought so hard for mainstream acceptance of running was hardly inclusive or accepting of older runners and women. In 1952 the Boston Athletic Assocation told 52-year-old Peter Foley he was too old to run. He shaved his gray beard and ran anyway.

• For the 100th anniversary, I talked to Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. She had to run it as a bandit, wearing a hooded sweatshirt to conceal her identity. She hid in the bushes near the starting line.

She told me she had sent an application into the BAA. The response?

"They said women are in 1966 not physiologically able to run the marathon distance," she said. "Futhermore they are not allowed to."

Gibb, who trained in nursing shoes but made the painful decision to run in brand new running shoes, ran a 3:21.

• The next year, 1967, the BAA received an application from a "K.V. Switzer." They didn't know the "K" stood for Kathrine. There's a famous picture of Jock Semple of the BAA bounding off the press truck and trying to rip the No. 261 off her back only to get blocked to the ground by Switzer's boyfriend, a former college football player.

"(Kathrine and I) were both back on the sports page," Gibb said of her second running of the Boston Marathon. "Kathrine with Jock chasing after her. It was like, 'Babes Bug Marathon Chief.'"

Gibb finished well ahead of Switzer that year, but neither time was recorded.

“There are no girls in the Boston Marathon,” declared race director Will Cloney.

• The Boston Athletic Association finally began recording women's champions when Nina Kuscsik won in 1972.

• The most appropriately named champion of the Boston Marathon showed up at the 100th anniversary in 1996. Johnny Miles was 91 at the time. Reached at his home in Nova Scotia, the 1929 winner said, "The shoes I wore cost 98 cents. They were top of the line."

• The tradition is for the Boston Red Sox to play at Fenway at 11 a.m. on Patriot's Day, after which fans file out to cheer the marathoners. After years of late-season folds by the Sox, the great Joan Benoit put on a Red Sox cap in Brookline, not far from Fenway, to remind her not to lose the lead.

• In 1907, race officials failed to check the railroad schedule in South Framingham. A freight train separated the lead runners from the rest of the field for more than a minute.

• Johnny Kelley is a two-time Boston Marathon champ and one of the event's most famous names. You want a measure of how much staying power a sports event has? You can start right there.

Kelley turns 80 this year. His nickname, "The Younger."

That's how Boston Marathon fans and historians differentiate him from the other Boston Marathon champ of the same name.

You guessed it. Johnny "The Elder" Kelley (no relation).

• Johnny "The Younger" Kelley was tripped up by a stray dog in Newtwon Lower Falls in 1961. The dog ran with the marathon lead pack for almost a dozen miles. According to the Boston Globe, Kelley held no grudges, saying, “Have you ever seen a dog in such good
condition?”

• According to Legend, Heartbreak Hill was coined by Jerry Nason of the Boston Globe when defending champ Johnny "The Elder" Kelley caught up to leader Ellison "Tarzan" Brown and tapped him on the shoulder as if to say, "Nice try, pal." Brown ran him down and won easily.

• Jacqueline Gareau thought she'd won the 1980 race. Instead she arrived at the finish line to see Rosie Ruiz wearing the victor's wreath. Ruiz apparently jumped into the race at Kenmore Square. Her 25-minute improvement over her qualifying time immediately raised suspicion and she was stripped of the title eight days later.

According to the Globe, when Gareau returned 25 years later to serve as grand marshal, she got out of a car and jokingly jogged across the finish line. “I'm like Rosie now,” she said. “Is this right?”

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

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2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

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3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

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4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

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5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

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6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

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7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

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8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

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9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

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10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

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11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

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12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

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13. SNES Classic; $275

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The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

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14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.