Women in the marathon - the story

There are marathons and other running events all over the world. Men and women start at such running events for very different reasons. Some just want to be there, others want to prove to themselves that they can do it, and still others want to set a new best time. But the fact that women can participate in marathons was not always a given. Women's events in athletics did not become Olympic until 1928. At that time, however, the longest running distance for women was only 800 meters. However, this distance was also eliminated in the meantime because it was considered too strenuous for women.

Kathrine Switzer

For decades, various women fought for equal rights at sporting events. But it was not until 1967 that the first change in thinking took place, when Kathrine Switzer became the first woman in the world to run the Boston Marathon with an official bib on April 19, 1967. This distance was forbidden for women at that time - the longest Olympic running distance for women at that time was only 800 meters. A year earlier, Roberta Gibb ran the Boston Marathon, but without registration and a race number, because she hid in the bushes before the race. Kathrine Switzer officially registered for the marathon in 1967, but she signed only with her initials, so no one guessed her gender. During the race, however, she caught the eye of race director Jock Semple and he immediately wanted to drag her off the course and snatch her bib. Her boyfriend and coach, who were both participating in the marathon with her, came to her rescue. Kathrine Switzer was then able to finish the marathon with a time of 4h 20min.

The press had documented the incident during the race - the photos subsequently went around the world and caused heated discussions. Nevertheless, it took until 1972 before women were officially allowed to start in the marathon. In Bräunlingen in the Black Forest, however, women were already running in the marathon in 1968 and were included in the official classification. In Central Park in New York, the first women's running event was held in 1972 over a distance of 6 kilometers, and in 1973 the first all-women's marathon race in the world was held in Waldniel. Kathrine Switzer became involved in the international women's running movement after her run in 1967 and wanted to ensure the necessary public attention. In 1977, she created the Avon Women's Marathon in conjunction with Avon, a cosmetics company. This was held annually from 1978 to 1984 - since then, more and more women have participated in marathons and other runs. In 1984, the marathon for women finally became an Olympic event and Joan Benoit could be celebrated as the first Olympic champion in the marathon. The current women's marathon world record is held by Brigid Kosgei with 2:14:04 h, who broke Paula Radcliffe's record of 2:15:25 h in 2019 after 16 years.

Kathrine Switzer

Kathrine Switzer is now a book author and television commentator and is considered a pioneer of the women's running movement. She herself took part in numerous other marathon competitions. In 2017, 50 years after her first marathon, she competed again in the Boston Marathon at the age of 70. She wore the same bib number as in 1967: number 261. We are thrilled by so much commitment. Because Kathrine Switzer has paved the way for women's athletic success in the marathon.

Image source: Kathrine Switzer