70-year-old marathon runner accused of cheating found dead in Los Angeles River

Runners take part  in the 34th Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday, March 24, 2019, in Los Angeles (David Crane/The Orange County Register via AP)
Runners take part in the 34th Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday, March 24, 2019. –David Crane / The Orange County Register via AP

Frank Meza, the 70-year-old marathon runner whose record time in the Los Angeles Marathon recently was disqualified because of suspicions that he cheated, was found dead Thursday morning in the Los Angeles River, ABC 13 reports.

Though Meza’s body was found lying in shallow water northeast of downtown Los Angeles in the Cypress Park area, LAPD officials do not suspect that he drowned. The exact cause of death has not been determined, according to multiple reports.

“Running was very important to my husband. He had been running marathons for the last 30 or 40 years. He was very fast, quite fast, and now unfortunately he won’t run marathons any more,” Meza’s wife, Tina, told the Daily Beast, adding that her husband told her he simply was going out for a run on Thursday morning and never returned. Rescue workers found his body around 10 a.m.

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In March, Meza finished the Los Angeles Marathon in 2:53.10, unofficially the fastest-ever time for a man his age. The record pace almost immediately aroused suspicion among the distance-running community, especially because Meza had twice been disqualified and eventually banned from a marathon in Sacramento, and an investigative running journalist named Derek Murphy published a story in May that provided photo evidence that claimed Meza had cut the course.

Meza denied cheating, saying he merely left the course to use the restroom and immediately returned. But on Monday, the Los Angeles Marathon’s organizer announced that it had disqualified Meza based on video evidence and an eyewitness account that he had left the course and then reentered it in a different location. The organizer also found that he had posted a midrace five-kilometer split time that would have set the world record at that distance for the 70-to-74 age group, “an impossible feat during a marathon.”

The marathon did say that Meza would be allowed to participate in the 2020 race if he allowed an observer to track his path.

“That’s my only silver lining,” he said.

Meza, a lifelong runner and retired physician who had worked to provide health care to low-income Southern California residents, didn’t start running marathons until around 60. He began to attract attention when his marathon times went from about 3 1/2 hours or longer to less than three hours, setting personal bests with times of 2:53.33 at the 2014 California International Marathon in Sacramento and then a 2:52.47 at the 2015 Los Angeles marathon a few months later. But the marathon in Sacramento questioned the irregular splits he posted in 2014 and 2016, eventually disqualifying him from both and banning him from the race. His time in the 2015 Los Angeles Marathon also was scrutinized, though race organizers said they did not have enough evidence to disqualify him.

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Murphy also has accused Meza of cheating at a February marathon in Arizona, when he again set an age-group record with a time of 2:53.54. Murphy claims photo evidence proves that Meza’s split times were significantly slower than his overall time and that he did not appear when he should have on an official race video camera set up at the 22-mile mark, alleging that Meza skipped that portion of the course. On Thursday, Murphy published a photo that he claims shows Meza riding a bicycle during the 2014 San Francisco Marathon, another race in which Meza set age-group records.

Meza’s wife told the Daily Beast that the reports were “manufactured lies.”

“We don’t understand why he was attacked,” she added. “He was just a soft-spoken, nice person. It hurt him deeply. I still don’t understand it.”