No matter whether or not you believe Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was complicit in the hoax about the death of his girlfriend, the story will go down as one of the more bizarre hoaxes in sports history. Numerous media outlets reported details about Te’o’s relationship with a woman who apparently never existed, and the story of the death of the girlfriend was motivational during a season in which Te’o finished as Heisman Trophy runner-up and led the Fighting Irish to the national championship game. We’ve compiled a list of other notable sports hoaxes through the years.
The most infamous local sports hoax concerns Rosie Ruiz, who was declared the winner of the 84th Boston Marathon, in 1980, without running the entire course. Ruiz was clocked at a winning time of 2:31:56, which was at the time the fastest female finishing time in Boston Marathon history. Afterward, spectators reported Ruiz emerging from a crowd along Commonwealth Avenue a half a mile from the finish. Ruiz was also found out to have cheated in her qualifying marathon, in New York, taking the subway during that race.
Figure skater Tonya Harding (left) tried to pull a fast one on the public when she attempted to cover up an attack on competitor Nancy Kerrigan (left) on Jan. 6, 1994. While the attack was first reported as random, Harding was found to have hired a hitman to attempt to break Kerrigan’s leg. Kerrigan was only bruised, and both she and Harding were selected for the US Olympic team after Harding threatened legal action to ensure her inclusion. She later pleaded guilty to aiding in the attack.
Almonte was a sensation during the 2000 Little League World Series. With a fastball topping 75 miles per hour, equivalent to 98 miles per hour in the major leagues, he struck out 62 of the 72 batters he faced and led his Bronx team to a third-place finish. His dominance and imposing stature led some to question whether he was really 12-years-old. It was later revealed that he had actually been two years too old at the time of the World Series.
Ali/Liston “phantom punch”
The second fight between heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and challenger Sonny Liston provided one of the most controversial endings in boxing history. Held in Lewiston, Maine, in 1965, the fight came two years after Ali defeated Liston in a previous fight. Midway through the first round of the rematch, Liston fell to the canvas. He did not get up. Many witnesses at ringside did not see a punch, and Ali himself was seen asking, “Did I hit him?”, leading to speculation that Liston threw the fight on purpose.
In an April Fool’s Day hoax perpetuated by Sports Illustrated, author George Plimpton (pictured) invented a fictitious baseball player by the name of Sidd Finch. The supposed Mets prospect could throw the ball up to 168 miles per hour wih pinpoint accuracy. The magazine received many letters from fans excited about the prospect and eventually printed a much smaller article clarifying the situation.
Mysterious marathon man
The New Yorker ran a great piece on a Michigan dentist named Kip Litton who consistently produced marathon times that seemed impossible. Litton was known to be a very good runner for his age, but he placed consistently high in races, including the Boston Marathon, where his top competitors did not remember seeing him on the course. He even seems to have invented his own marathon and named himself the winner. His methods have not been found out.
Kim Jong-il, the late leader of North Korea, routinely shot three or four holes-in-one per round of golf, according to official North Korean state media reports. While those numbers are impressive, one particular peformance stands out. The unquestioned leader set a golfing standard during a round in the early 90s by shooting a 38-under-par round of 34 that included an amazing 11 holes-in-one. Other feats the North Korean leader was “reported’’ to have accomplished include a perfect 300 game in bowling.