Did Boston Marathon Dad Mike Rossi Cheat in Qualifying Race?

The running blogs and bulletin boards are abuzz with rumors and conspiracy theories. Rossi says they're "100% false" and that he's called his lawyer.

Mike Rossi at the Boston Marathon

Mike Rossi at the Boston Marathon

This time last week, 47-year-old Montco dad Mike Rossi — once a host of the ’80s music TV show Dancin’ on Air and now a wedding and WXTU DJ — was in the limelight thanks to a kerfuffle with his kids’ principal over his decision to take them out of classes for three days so they could see dear ol’ dad run in the Boston Marathon.

But now, people are talking about Rossi for another reason: They’re suggesting that there’s something fishy about his time in 2014’s Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon, the race that qualified him for the Boston Marathon. The Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the Boston Marathon, says it is aware of the allegations of cheating. And the organizers of the Lehigh Valley race have asked the USA Track & Field association, the national governing body for long-distance running, to launch an investigation.

“The allegations are one hundred percent false,” Rossi told me late on Monday night. “I worked my tail off to get that time, and I’m proud of it.”

It’s anyone’s guess whether the doubters are competitors jealous of Rossi’s newfound fame, or righteous revealers of the truth. We got the first email about the Lehigh Valley race last Thursday, just as Rossi’s 15 minutes were about to expire. It came from Ross Felice, a member of the Bucks County Triathlon Club.

Felice characterized Rossi’s race record as “very puzzling.”

First, he argues, there are the race photographs. After all, what’s a conspiracy theory without a mysterious photographic angle? In most races like Lehigh Valley’s, organizers hire a company to come in and take thousands of photos from different points in the race, and then runners can look themselves up later by name or bib number to find images of them grunting and panting. Felice points out that the only photos of Rossi from that race are of him crossing the finish line.

“There should be a dozen or so pictures of him throughout the course,” claims Felice. “Almost all the runners who ran the course have over a dozen or so pictures.”

And then there is Rossi’s race time of three hours, eleven minutes — a performance that, again, qualified him for the most prestigious American marathon there is, something that had long been a dream for Rossi. He’s only been competing for a couple of years, he’s pushing 50, and his past race times and pace times are all far away from a three hour, eleven minute marathon. “The math does not add up,” says Felice. And several other veteran runners we spoke with also found the stats suspicious.

Unlike in Boston, where a runner’s time is monitored at various points throughout the race, the Lehigh Valley race only recorded the times when Rossi left the starting line and when he crossed the finish line. A spokesman for the Boston Marathon told us that different qualifying races monitor times in different ways, and that the Boston Marathon doesn’t have rules regarding whether those races monitor time throughout or not.

In less than a week, Felice’s skepticism has spread like wildfire through the running community: There’s a lengthy thread on the community page of Runner’s World magazine and 27 pages (and counting) of arguments on LetsRun.com that start with the question, “Did Mike Rossi (viral marathon dad) cheat his way into Boston?”

And now, running blog Seeking Boston Marathon has issued a diatribe on the Rossi run (no longer live on the site; cached version here). Here’s part of what blogger Ty Godwin has to say:

Why do runners “smell blood in the water” and want answers? It also seems that none of Mike’s previous races (5K and up) have any indication that he was capable of running a 3:11. He ran a 4:01 in Boston (due to injury,) and a 3:43 in the Philly Marathon which is more in line with his Athlinks previous race results. A 3:11 marathon is a 7:19 pace. Less than two months earlier, he ran a similar pace (7:13) … in a 5k. If he can maintain the same pace in a marathon that he has in a 5k, I’ll eat my run hat, and issue a public apology on my YouTube.

“I will quote the wise prophets Cheech and Chong,” Godwin continues. “If it looks like dog shit, smells like dog shit … must be dog shit. Or … I owe Mike a pair of Brooks.”

So is it dog shit? Or is it just circumstantial evidence being used to railroad a guy who made a lot of enemies (and, to be fair, a lot of friends) with last week’s principal protestations?

Rossi, who has deleted his Twitter account and made his previously public running blog and Facebook page private, adamantly denies that he cheated, but declined to provide further details or any evidence that might support his run time. He also declined to comment on the record about the motivation of the people behind the conspiracy campaign. But he does have a warning for them.

“A lot of things they’ve said on these blogs are slanderous,” he said. “Believe me. I’ve seen them, and I’ve spoken to my attorney about them. I don’t need to prove anything to anybody, because I didn’t cheat. It’s easy to go on a website anonymously and make comments.”

Late on Tuesday afternoon, Gerry Yasso, vice president of resource development for Via Lehigh Valley, confirmed to Philadelphia magazine that he has asked the USATF to launch a “thorough and impartial” investigation into the allegations against Rossi.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.