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Marathoner Stirs Running Controversy

May 14, 1995|ROB FERNAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Allegations of misconduct have dogged 67-year-old Richard Roodberg since 1988, when he came from nowhere to post a world-record time in his age group at the Los Angeles Marathon.

The Van Nuys resident was disqualified from that race, as well as the 1990 L.A. and Boston marathons, after officials said he failed to show up at any of the courses' checkpoints. The allegations were that Roodberg did not run the entire races, charges he steadfastly denied in a 1990 interview with The Times.

Marathon runner Patrick Devine recalls reading about the controversy surrounding Roodberg, but said he didn't give it much thought until he scanned the results of this year's L.A. Marathon. When Devine discovered that Roodberg was the runner who finished ahead of him to win the 65-69 age group, a red flag went up.

Devine wondered whether Roodberg, who claims to train for marathons by jogging in place, was back to what Devine called his "old tricks."

Prompted by Devine's suspicions, detailed in a letter to L.A. Marathon President Bill Burke, officials reviewed videotape of the race to see if Roodberg's victory in his age group should be overturned. But because it rained during the marathon, the quality of the tape was such that the investigation proved inconclusive, race director Lisa Rosenfield said.

"Without that sort of proof, we cannot disqualify anyone," Rosenfield said.

Repeated attempts to reach Roodberg for comment were unsuccessful. He was awarded a watch and a plaque for his age-group victory.

In an event that had more than 19,000 entrants, the task of detecting alleged misconduct has proved daunting for L.A. Marathon officials. But the fact that Roodberg, twice disqualified, was granted entry into the March 5 race has raised questions about the marathon's screening process.

To Devine, the situation is nothing short of appalling.

"Being that (Roodberg) burned the Los Angeles Marathon twice and the Boston Marathon once, I thought they would take stronger action," he said.

Roodberg finished the 1995 L.A. Marathon in three hours, 17 minutes and 24 seconds--nearly three minutes faster than Devine, 66, an experienced runner who has completed all 10 L.A. marathons and has won his age group six times. Devine ranks among the nation's top senior distance runners.

There is little data available on Roodberg at the USA Track and Field Road Running Information Center in Santa Barbara, other than a brief file that chronicles his alleged hoaxes.

"He's a notorious cheater," said Basil Honikman, chairman of the records committee at the information center.

Running Times magazine referred to Roodberg as "a known fraud" in a 1990 editorial.

Illan Sparado, Roodberg's daughter, said her father is being judged unfairly by those skeptical of his accomplishments.

"It seems typical of people who are jealous," Sparado said. "I probably sound a bit biased because I'm his daughter, but I know he is absolutely physically capable of running a marathon. There would be no reason for him to cheat."

That's because Roodberg has stayed in excellent physical condition throughout his life, Sparado said. In addition to running an occasional marathon, Sparado said, her father is an avid skier and beach volleyball player, and works out regularly with weights.

Sparado, 36, said she has watched Roodberg run the latter stages of the L.A. Marathon several times from a vantage point near the 23-mile mark. She also said friends have seen Roodberg running at different points along the course.

Sparado described Roodberg's unorthodox training method.

"He jumps up and down on a mat," she said.

In a 1990 interview with The Times, Roodberg said he prepared for a marathon by jogging in place on a rubber mat for an hour three times a week, thus avoiding the pounding his knees would absorb by running long distances on hard surfaces. Sparado said running is not part of her father's training regimen.

This method of training deviates greatly from the workouts of most marathon participants, who run up to 100 miles a week. Devine, for instance, said he runs an average of 65 miles a week in preparation for a race.

Roodberg's time at the L.A. Marathon in March breaks down to an average of seven minutes, 30 seconds per mile over the 26.2-mile course. Although that is far from a world-class pace, Devine and others said it is improbable that anyone, let alone a 67-year-old man, could run a marathon that quickly by using Roodberg's training routine.

"There's absolutely no way," Devine said. "I get rusty if I do a few things wrong. If I haven't run a race in a month or so, even if I've been training, I will be quite a bit off in my time."

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