You've just crossed the finish line after running 26.2 miles in the Los Angeles Marathon and are pleased to see you've finished in 10,000th place. That's not half bad, you tell yourself, considering there are at least 19,000 other runners.
Then you look around and see the guy who has been awarded 9,999th place.
You didn't see him busting his bunions on the course alongside you.
Doesn't that sweat running down his face look more like Evian water that maybe he has poured over his head?
Is that a Metro ticket that just fell out of his pocket?
Could he be the lowest form of life in the runners' world, a course-cutter?
Suddenly, you're outraged.
You should be 9,999th.
History's most famous course-cutter was Rosie Ruiz, the 1980 Boston Marathon winner until it was discovered 24 hours later that she had run all of one mile. The women's winner in Los Angeles last year, Nadezhda Ilynia, was disqualified because she cut corners at three different points.
But, because race leaders attract so much attention from officials, media and other competitors, there aren't many instances of course-cutting among elite runners. Most cheaters are back in the pack, cloaked in anonymity.
The problem is not quite as large as world hunger. The veteran L.A. Marathon referee, Basil Honikman, says an average marathon has no more than five or six deadbeats. But there are enough known ones in the world, he says, that a list circulates among referees.
It's enough of an agitation that officials of Sunday's L.A. Marathon are taking extra precautions, adding a secret electronic checkpoint at a random location that won't be revealed to runners.
Who would cheat in a marathon, an exercise in which the point for most people is exercise?
JoAnn Dahlkoetter, a sports psychologist from San Carlos, Calif., has done studies, producing a profile of a course-cutter.
Psychologists, she says, categorize most along with students who cheat in school, people who perhaps have been driven by their parents to succeed at levels beyond their limitations.
In marathons, she says, they tend to be older people, goal-oriented, probably successful in their careers, but unable to accept that they no longer can achieve athletically.
"They get an award, a fast time in the newspaper and can brag about it at work," she says. "It's a quick fix for their self-esteem."
Then there is another, more criminal type, she says, who suffers from an antisocial personality disorder. Those cheaters delight in seeing whether they can get something without working for it, especially if it's at someone else's expense. When they're too old to fake running, they'll become shoplifters.
Dahlkoetter says races directors are particularly offended by them. They're the ones, she says, who most often pay entry fees with bad checks.
Could Eric Karros be the next Wally Pipp? . . .
Pipp, to refresh your memory, was the New York Yankee first baseman who sat out one day because of a headache and lost his job to Lou Gehrig. . . .
Paul Konerko, the Dodger first baseman in Karros' absence after knee surgery, might be that good. . . .
Then again, here's another name to consider: Greg Brock. . . .
Brock was the minor league power-hitting sensation who came up to stay in 1983 and was supposed to make us forget Steve Garvey. . . .
In four seasons with the Dodgers, Brock's best offensive numbers were a .251 batting average with 21 home runs and 66 RBI. . . .
Bill Montalbano, The Times' foreign correspondent who died of a heart attack last week in London, was an occasional sportswriter, covering World Cups and Summer Olympics. . . .
None among us could match his international perspective. . . .
Or his contacts. . . .
One day in Barcelona in 1992, he requested an assignment to a U.S.-Cuba baseball game because he wanted to speak to Fidel Castro. . . .
Upon returning to the office, sports editor Bill Dwyre asked whether he had accomplished his mission. . . .
When Montalbano gave him a thumbs up, Dwyre asked what he had said to Castro. . . .
"Hello, Fidel," Montalbano said. . . .
"And what did Fidel say?" Dwyre asked. . . .
"Hello, Bill," Montalbano said. . . .
Montalbano's funeral will be held today in Miami. He was 57.
While wondering if Fox will have as much success with its baseball team as with "Titanic," I was thinking: The Dodgers will be more like the ship than the movie if they don't sign Mike Piazza, locking up Latrell Sprewell might be a good idea, locking out the rest of the NBA players is not.