Monday, October 31, 2011

Vol. 1 No. 67 Who Said We Wouldn't Mention Women's Running?

As mentioned earlier , when I find things about early women's running and track and field articles I will put them in this blog. This comes from a discussion of a documentary titled 'Run Like a Girl'. GB

History of Women's Distance Running
The year is 1896. Melpomene, a young Greek woman, asks that she be allowed to participate in the Olympic marathon. Her request is denied. So she runs the course, unofficially, in 4:30.

Eighty-eight years after Melpomene's resolute challenge, women's Olympic marathon is run for the first time. Joan Benoit, a spirited runner from New England, finishes the race with a winning time of 2:24:52.

The near century that separates these two remarkable athletes is marked with repeated endeavors by women to enter the sphere of long distance racing. The story of their success is no less incredible than accounts of other historic journeys toward equality. Nor has it ended.


1896-1928: Women on their Own
Denied entry into the Modern Olympic Games, women begin holding the Women's Olympics, games sponsored by the Federation Sportive Feminine Internationale (FSFI), the governing body for women in track and field around the world. In 1922, the first Olympiad for women is held in Paris, where Mademoiselle Breard wins the 1000 meters in a world-record 3 minutes, 12 seconds.

By 1928, after petitioning time and again, women are granted an experimental program of five track and field events that are to be included in the 1928 Olympic Games. All five events are completed during the Games, but because of the exhausted condition of some of the women at the end of the 800 meter final, the event is dropped until 1960.

1928-1960: Survival - but no progress
Pikes Peak in Colorado poses an irresistible, perhaps symbolic challenge to three women during this period. In 1936, two women enter the 13-mile footrace up the rugged incline. In 1959, Arlene Pieper runs the grueling 26-mile up-and-down course in 9:16.

Until the formation of the Road Runner's Club of America in 1957, women find few opportunities to run long distances competitively. But even three years later, the longest distance women are allowed to run in the 1960 Rome Olympics is the 800 meters.

1961-1972: Years of Protest
Because women aren't welcome in many races, they resort to covert action, entering races without invitation or encouragement. Merry Lepper and Lyn Carman, for example, enter the 1963 Western Hemisphere Marathon in culver City, California. Lepper finishes the race, unofficially of course, in 3:37:07.

Roberta Gibb, in the 1966 Boston Marathon, tries a different tack: after being denied entry, she hides in the bushes and jumps into the race. her time is 3:21:40, and she is the unofficial women's winner. She runs and wins unofficially in both 1967 and 1968. In 1967, though, she has company.

Running under the name K. Switzer, Katherine Switzer finishes the '67 race in 4:20 and is suspended from the AAU for competing in the race. The media, however, choose to focus on the fact that official Jock Semple attempts to throw Switzer out of the race. Sixteen days after that race, young Maureen Wilton, a thirteen-year-old Canadian, runs a World Best for the marathon of 3:15:22.8.

It is not until 1970 that the RRCA holds the first championship marathon for women. Bostonian Sara mae Berman, a pioneer in women's running, wins the race with a remarkable time of 3:07:10. Berman also wins the Boston Marathon, unofficially, in 1969, 1970, and 1971.

In a single year (1971), the Women's World Best for the marathon is lowered four times, twice by Beth Bonner, who is the first woman to run the distance in under three hours (NYC Marathon -2:55:22; Nina Kuscsik finishes second with 2:56:04). At year's end, a World Best of 2:49:40 is set by Cheryl Bridges in the Western Hemisphere Marathon.

1971 is a year of unusual progress for women distance runners. The Boston marathon is officially open to women; eight women finish the race, Kuscsik wins. Women are allowed to run in the New York City marathon, but the event, says Pat Rico of the AAU Women's Track and Field Committe, must be separate from the men's race. She suggest, too, that the women start 10 minutes before or after the men begin. women competitors protest by sitting down for the first ten minutes until the start of the men's race, starting when the gun sounds for themen. Nina Kuscsik wins, but her official time reflects a ten-minute penalty.

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