25 great hoaxes, cheats and frauds in sport

Updated: April 17, 2005, 10:03 PM ET
By Aaron Kuriloff | Special to ESPN.com

Rosie Ruiz may be one of the most famous cheaters in sports, but she's certainly not the only one.

She's not even the most clever.

Since organized sports began, athletes have resorted to drastic and extralegal methods to achieve notoriety -- from taking drugs to taking out the competition. Some do it for a quick laugh, others for a quick buck. But whatever their motives or methods, they tend to get caught.

Here, in honor of the 25th anniversary of Ruiz's half-mile Boston Marathon, is a list of the top 25 cheats, frauds and scams perpetrated in sports around the globe.

25. Stella Walsh
One of the world's fastest female track and field athletes, Stella Walsh won a gold medal representing her native Poland in the 100 meters at the 1932 Olympics. She took silver in the same event four years later. Though born in Wierzchowina, Poland, in 1911 as Stanlislawa Walasiewiczowna, Walsh changed her name shortly after her family emigrated to Cleveland, which served as home base for a career that eventually included 20 women's track and field world records, 41 AAU titles and a 1975 induction into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame.

But when Walsh died, after being shot in a hold-up outside a Cleveland shopping mall, an autopsy revealed that her name and nationality weren't the only things she'd changed. In fact, a coroner discovered, Walsh had both female and male chromosomes. And male genitalia. One of the greatest athletes in women's sports was actually a man.

24. The Great Chess Automaton of Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen
In 1769, a Hungarian nobleman named Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen constructed a chess playing machine for the Austrian Queen Maria Theresia. Supposedly a completely mechanical device, the automaton consisted of a box filled with levers and gears supporting an animatronic figure dressed in a turban and known as the "Turk." Kempelen took the device on a tour of the finest courts in Europe and it defeated many of the finest chess players in the game. Charles Babbage, often cited as a godfather of the modern computer, played two games against the Turk. Edgar Allan Poe wrote an essay about it. Many who saw the machine play suspected a trick, but none could figure out how the automaton worked.

Kempelen eventually passed the device on to an inventor named Johann Maelzel, who took the Turk to the United States, where it drew huge crowds for more than a decade, before being destroyed by a fire in 1854. Three years later, the son of the machine's final owner revealed its secret: expert chess players, recruited during stops on each tour, hiding within the gears.

23. Joe Niekro

Joe Niekro
APJoe Niekro denied using an emery board to improve his pitches.
The younger brother of Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro, Joe played 21 years in the big leagues, throwing the knuckleball with six different teams. He won 21 games for the Astros in 1979, earning an All-Star berth, and won another 20 games the following year.

In 1987, however, while playing for Minnesota, opposing batters accused him of doctoring the ball. An umpire made him empty his pockets on the mound, and an emery board and a piece of sandpaper fell to the dirt. Niekro denied doctoring the ball but accepted a 10-day suspension with good humor. His brother sent him a power sander and a 50-foot extension cord. In October, after pitching two innings of scoreless relief during Game 4 of the World Series, he joked that he had remembered to carry his emery board in both.

22. David Robertson
After 14 holes in a qualifying tournament for the 1985 British Open, several players summoned a tournament official to discuss the play of David Robertson. Their complaint: Robertson wasn't placing his ball in the correct position on the green.

That's the typically restrained UK way of putting it. According to the official, Robertson was actually racing to the green ahead of his playing partners, where he would pretend to mark his ball. In reality, however, he was simply picking it up, then placing the marker on his putter -- carrying it across the green to a more favorable lie closer to the hole. Robertson was fined the equivalent of more than $30,000 and banned from the pro tour for 30 years. About seven years later, he reapplied for amateur status and played in several events near Lothian, Great Britain.

21. Fred Lorz
In the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, before Rosie Ruiz was even born, New York native Fred Lorz cruised to the marathon finish line in three hours, 13 minutes -- far ahead of his nearest competitor. Lorz had already broken the tape, posed for photographs with then-first daughter Alice Roosevelt and made ready to receive his gold medal when organizers figured out how he'd established such a lead: by flagging down a passing car and riding 11 miles as a passenger.

Officials then awarded the race to Thomas Hicks, an English-born American whose trainers kept him going in the day's exceptional heat by feeding him a combination of strychnine and brandy. Lorz claimed his own short cut was a practical joke but still received a lifetime ban from the sport, though track officials later allowed him to run again. He celebrated his reinstatement by winning the Boston Marathon the next year.

20. Hansie Cronje
The captain of South Africa's cricket team, Hansie Cronje was one of the most famous players in the world. In 1999, he led his team to the semifinals of the World Cup in England and was known as the face of South African cricket.

But he might not have been as productive a player as it seemed to fans. In April 2000, police in Delhi, India, announced that they'd recorded Cronje giving information to a gambler before a match between the two countries. Several days later, Cronje admitted to accepting between $10,000 and $15,000 from gamblers in London for behind-the-scenes information about his team. Soon, Cronje became the subject of numerous other allegations, including accusations that he'd accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix matches. International cricket served him with a lifetime ban, and he died in a plane crash in June 2002 while still attempting to have the bans overturned in court.

19. Ali Dia
Like American pro sports teams, soccer clubs in the United Kingdom are constantly looking out for unknown talent. So Southampton manager Graeme Souness was grateful when he received a call in 1996 from a man who identified himself as World Footballer of the Year George Weah and extolled the skills of his "cousin," a 30-year-old nobody named Ali Dia who, the caller said, had played in 13 international tournaments for Senegal.

Impressed by the recommendation, Souness signed Dia, sight unseen, to a 30-day contract and put him on the bench for Southampton's next game, against Leeds. What Souness didn't know was that the man he'd spoken to on the phone wasn't actually George Weah -- it was Dia's agent. Unfortunately for Souness, he didn't learn this fact until after he'd sent Dia into the game as a substitute, where the striker played 14 minutes of embarrassingly bad soccer before Souness figured out the con.

18. Dora Ratjen
Unlike Stella Walsh, who possessed both male and female chromosomes, there was nothing at all feminine about Dora Ratjen, who competed in the high jump at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Least of all "her" real name. Dora was, in fact, actually Hermann Ratjen, a detail not discovered until after the Second World War, when he was found working as a waiter -- not a waitress -- in Hamburg.

Ratjen claimed that leaders of the Hitler Youth had coerced him into binding his genitals and competing as a woman. But in the end, the joke was on them and their theories of Aryan superiority: Ratjen finished fourth, behind three actual women.

17. Mr. Martin
A man wearing a top-hat walked into the offices of the U.K. newspaper The Sportsman in the summer of 1909 and asked if the editor would publish the card of the Trodmore Hunt Steeplechase, scheduled to be held at the track in Cornwall that August. Impressed by the program for the event, the editor agreed and said he would also print the results. According to the paper, a horse named Reaper won, at 5-to-1 odds, and bookies subsequently paid out some sizeable sums to winning bettors.

The only problem? The whole thing was a fantasy -- the race, Reaper, everything -- which several bookies noticed when the odds changed to 5-2 in the morning edition. The phantom race was apparently cooked up by the mysterious Mr. Martin, who was never seen again.

16. Sidd Finch
He was an unknown rookie pitcher, invited to camp by the Mets, who could throw a 168 mph fastball. He had pinpoint control. According to an article by George Plimpton in the April 1 edition of Sports Illustrated, Sidd Finch was one of the strangest ballplayers ever -- an orphan raised by anthropologists who grew up into a yogi, a virtuoso on the French Horn and a Harvard alum. Players said it wasn't humanly possible to hit his pitches.

That's because they didn't exist. Finch was an elaborate joke cooked up by Plimpton, author of the sports classic "Paper Lion." The magazine received more than 2,000 letters seeking additional information before admitting on April 15 that the story was a joke. Plimpton had even left a hint in the text. The subhead to the piece read, in part, "He's a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent lifestyle, Sidd's deciding about yoga." If you write out the first letters of all those words, they spell "Happy April Fool's Day."

Maradona
This play will always overshadow what Mardona did with his feet.

15. Kieron Fallon
One of the U.K.'s most successful jockeys, Kieron Fallon earned new attention in 2004 for demonstrating an uncanny ability to predict when he wouldn't succeed. Last March, Fallon told undercover reporters from the British TV show "News of the World" that he could guarantee that he would not win that afternoon's race but finish second instead.

Fallon's mount Ballinger Ridge leapt out to a huge lead, but slowed approaching the finish line, allowing second place Rye to catch up and nose ahead just at the finish line. Confronted by the reporters, Fallon said, "I'm (expletive)." He served a 21-day suspension and was arrested later in the year with five other jockeys as part of a resulting police investigation.

14. Diego Maradona
With the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal match between England and Argentina tied at 0-0, and just minutes left on the clock, Argentinean striker Maradona and English goalkeeper Peter Shilton converged on the ball. Shilton reached out to clear, but Maradona leapt into the air and, with a seemingly impossible header, guided the ball into the net to give his team the win.

The shot was exactly as impossible as it looked. Slow-motion replays -- and an infamous still shot taken by a Mexican photographer -- showed Maradona using his left hand to deflect the ball toward the goal. Argentina won 2-1, after Maradona scored a second -- legitimate -- goal. In an interview the next day, Maradona described the controversial play. "It was partly the hand of Maradona," he said, "and partly the hand of God."

13. Panama Lewis
A trainer for several highly ranked boxers in the 1980s, Panama Lewis helped prepare Mike Tyson for his 2002 fight against Lennox Lewis. But his questionable tactics in another fight earned him as much repute as his training skills.

During a 1982 title fight, Lewis handed light-welterweight champion Aaron Pryor a now-famous "black bottle" containing an unknown substance that helped the tired Pryor recover enough strength to knock out Alexis Arguello. Then, in June 1983, on the undercard of a Roberto Duran fight at Madison Square Garden, Lewis removed most of the padding from the gloves of Luis Resto, who proceeded to batter his opponent Billy Collins Jr. so badly that doctors told Collins he could never fight again. Both Lewis and Resto were convicted of conspiracy to fix a sporting event. Lewis spent a year in prison and was permanently banned from working as a trainer in the United States. He continues to work overseas.

12. Carl Power
Shortly after Manchester United published its team photograph in 2001, fans began asking for the identity of the extra player appearing with the otherwise well-known lineup. Included in the picture was a slightly overweight man, dressed in uniform, whom no one had ever seen play.

After the BBC launched a nationwide manhunt, the non-player was identified as Carl Power, a 36-year-old Manchester resident and practical joker nicknamed "Fat Neck." Power had managed to get into the picture by waiting in the stadium for three hours until the team arrived, then wandering over. None of the real players noticed him joining them. It wasn't Power's final exploit. Shortly thereafter, he dressed in a batsman's helmet during one of the English cricket team's matches and almost made it into the game. He played a few serves with a friend on Centre Court at Wimbledon before a Tim Henman match. And he even dressed in a driver's uniform and leapt onto the winner's podium ahead of Michael Schumacher during a Formula One awards ceremony.

11. Sylvester Carmouche
A heavy ground fog had settled across Louisiana's Delta Downs racetrack in December 1990 when jockey Sylvester Carmouche pulled off a surprise upset by finishing first on the 23-1 long shot Landing Officer. But even more surprising was the magnitude of his victory. Landing Officer won by 24 lengths, finishing just 1.2 seconds shy of the track record for a one-mile course.

It wasn't that Landing Officer had discovered an inner reserve of strength somewhere in the backstretch. As it turned out, the jockey had steered the horse out of the race while lost from view in the fog, cut across the course and rejoined the field again as the other horses came around. Other jockeys admitted they'd never even seen him. Carmouche received a 10-year ban but was reinstated after serving eight.

10. Donald Crowhurst
The 36-year-old sailor set out from England in a plywood trimaran as a competitor in the 1968 Golden Globe round-the-world yacht race. Though he had little prior experience and his boat, the Teignmouth Electron, was frighteningly under-built, Crowhurst managed to convince a wealthy backer, race judges and the media that he was a serious contender.

He wasn't. After several weeks fighting leaks and making slow progress, Crowhurst began sending bogus radio reports indicating amazing success. At one point, he claimed to have covered 391 kilometers in a single day -- a world record, at the time. In reality, however, Crowhurst had sailed off the route to the coast of South America, where he decided to lie low and wait for the other competitors to come back around. He spent 111 days in radio silence, then called in and reported another bogus position behind the race leader. But when a competitor sank trying to "beat" the Teignmouth Electron for second place, Crowhurst was overcome with guilt. He confessed all in his logbook, then stepped over the side and vanished into the Atlantic.

9. The 1951 City College of New York Basketball Team
After winning both the 1950 NCAA and NIT tournaments -- making it the only school in history to accomplish that feat -- the CCNY team found itself back in the spotlight for a very different reason in 1951. That's when seven players were indicted for conspiring to shave points and even, occasionally, lose regular-season games.

The scandal eventually spread to seven other schools around the country. While Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp stated he believed the point-shaving was confined to Jewish and black players, three of the players on his all-white team were indicted. Along with numerous gamblers and gangsters, players from CCNY, Long Island University, New York University, Bradley, Kentucky and Toledo were all eventually charged with various offenses related to the scandal.

8. Skategate

David Pelletier, Jamie Sale
Things were so ridiculous in 2002 that Canadian figure skaters Jamie Salé and David Pelletier became household names.
When competition ended in the pair skating event at the Salt Lake City Olympics, fans in the audience and around the world thought they knew who'd won. Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier circled the ice triumphantly, while fans chanted "Six! Six!" demanding a perfect score for the team's performance. Those fans were silenced, however, by scores that handed the gold medal to the Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, even though Sikharulidze had failed to appropriately land one of his double-axels.

The results spurred immediate accusations of cheating -- which proved justified when French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne said she had been pressured to vote for the Russian skaters by the French skating federation. After four days of argument, the IOC awarded Sale and Pelletier an unprecedented extra gold medal. Later that summer, Italian authorities arrested a Russian mobster named Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov after the FBI accused him of masterminding the fix. An Italian judge, though, overturned a previous order to extradite him to the United States.

7. Boris Onischenko
An Army officer from the Ukraine, Boris Onischenko was a respected pentathlete with a silver medal from the 1972 Munich Games. But in the 1976 Olympics, competitors noticed something strange about his fencing style. Jim Fox, of the British team, found that his Soviet opponent was scoring points even when his épée missed Fox by a considerable distance.

Danny Almonte
Danny Almonte, 14, fooled everyone into thinking he was an amazing 12-year-old.

Fox and the other Brits convinced Olympic officials to examine Onischenko's sword, which turned out to be wired with a clever system that allowed him to score points at will by means of a hidden trigger. The Soviet was disqualified and the rules changed to ban grips that could conceal wires or switches.

6. Danny Almonte
The left-handed pitcher became a media darling and an overnight sensation when he pitched a perfect game on national television while leading his team of Bronx youths to a third-place finish at the Little League World Series in the summer of 2001.

But the star of the Baby Bronx Bombers wasn't quite as preternaturally talented as he seemed. Though Almonte could, in fact, throw a 70 mph fastball -- an impressive feat for a 12-year-old -- officials in the Dominican Republic later confirmed that records showed Almonte was actually 14. The age advantage gave him a considerable edge over his mostly pre-pubescent competition. Almonte's father and coach, who forged the boy's registration form, was banned from Little League for life.

5. Tonya Harding
It was to be one of the most anticipated showdowns of the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics: Nancy Kerrigan and her polished, aristocratic skating style against the raw talent of Tonya Harding, a former U.S. national champion from the wrong side of the tracks. But Harding's husband, Jeff Gillooly, decided not to wait for the Games to seek an advantage for his wife.

Tonya Harding
Harding

During practice for the U.S. Championship, one month before the Olympics, an assailant hired by Gillooly clubbed Kerrigan on her right leg, which she used for lifts and landings. Harding later admitted in a plea bargain that she and Gillooly had plotted the assault. The plot didn't work. Kerrigan recovered to win a silver medal at Lillehammer. Harding finished out of the running and was subsequently stripped of her national title and banished from skating. Gillooly wound up with two years in prison.

4. The East German Olympic Team
In the 1970s and '80s, the East German Olympic team emerged as one of the leading powerhouses in sports. Though East Germany was a nation of fewer than 17 million people, it began to rival much larger nations in the medal race, including the United States and the Soviet Union. At one point, East Germany's gold medal total doubled, from 20 to 40, in just four years.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, however, the reasons for that success became clear. Records revealed that trainers and coaches had doped thousands of athletes with banned steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs -- telling the athletes the pills were vitamins. Many later reported medical consequences ranging from organ damage to hormonal changes. A German court later found former East German sports boss Manfred Ewald and his medical director Manfred Hoeppner culpable for the cheating.

3. Spanish Paralympians
It was a heartwarming story -- a group of mentally challenged basketball players pulling together and producing an outstanding performance that won the 2000 Paralympic gold medal for Spain, beating the Russian team 87-63 in the finals of the intellectual disability tournament. The only problem with the tale: It was fiction.

Shortly after the team returned to Spain, Carlos Ribagorda, a player on the team and a working journalist, wrote an article in the Spanish magazine Capital, in which he said that 10 of 12 players on the team suffered from no intellectual disability whatsoever. Ribagorda accused Spanish team organizers of deliberately selecting players without handicaps in order to win the tournament and said he and other players had not undergone medical or psychological testing before the event. The team was ordered to return its gold medals, and the resulting scandal forced the resignation of at least three of the top Paralympic officials in Spain.

2. Ben Johnson
The Canadian sprinter was hailed as the "Fastest Man Alive" and became a hero in Canada after beating Carl Lewis and the rest of the field in the 100-meters at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

Just days later, however, it was learned that Johnson had tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid stanozolol, prompting Olympic organizers to strip him of his gold medal. Johnson's positive test made his name synonymous with the use of performance-enhancing drugs and helped generate the current public concern over doping in Major League Baseball, cycling and other professional sports.

1. The 1919 Chicago White Sox
Major League Baseball was a national institution in the early years of the 20th century -- the All-American game -- and the best team in baseball was the Chicago White Sox. But despite being heavily favored against the Cincinnati Reds, the Sox lost to the Reds in eight games in the then best-of-nine World Series.

A grand jury later indicted eight White Sox players, including pitcher Eddie Cicotte and outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, who admitted that the team had received money from gamblers to fix the series. A court later acquitted the players of conspiracy to defraud the public, but baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned them for life. The national feeling over the event was summed up in an apocryphal story about a young boy who approached Jackson outside the courthouse and begged: "Say it ain't so, Joe."

Aaron Kuriloff is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at aaron.kuriloff@gmail.com.

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