A Historical Perspective of Women’s Participation in the Marathon
Women have been described using adjectives such as frail, beautiful, innocent and fragile for centuries. New York Times bestseller Teresa Medeiros wrote “Women are delicate creatures. Fragile. Gentle. Made by God to be sheltered from the harshness of this world..”. Veikko Karvonen, 1954 European and Boston Marathon Champ described Marathon running as a terrible experience: monotonous, heavy, and exhausting. How could a docile sweet woman possibly compete in such an intense test of strength and endurance? The contradicting descriptions and preconceptions of women and the marathon are perhaps part of the reason why it took so long for women to rightfully take their place on the starting line of the marathon. I will be researching women’s battle for their spot in the marathon throughout history, starting with Melpomene, a woman who allegedly jumped into the marathon at the first modern Olympic games and exploring the discrimination women faced throughout the last century. There are several brave women who have made particular contributions to women’s marathon running and they are highlighted in this paper. Finally I will look at current women marathoners and the future of women’s participation in the marathon.
Ancient History of Women’s Running
In the ancient Olympics women were forbidden to compete and faced possible execution for being a spectator at the games. In 1896 the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens Greece, founded by IOC president Pierre de Coubertin. Like most of the men of his time, Pierre de Coubertin was not in favor of the participation of women in the Olympic Games. “… The true Olympic hero, in my view, is the individual adult male.” There is evidence that regardless of de Coubertin’s thoughts a woman named Melpomene competed in the first ever marathon despite being denied an official entry. Melopomene warmed up out of site and jumped in as the race started. She finished an hour and a half behind the male winner and was barred from entering the stadium at the finish.
Taking Matters into Their Own Hands; Women by Themselves
Women, having been denied participation in the Olympics, decided to take matters into their own hands creating organizations to achieve similar status to men. Alice Milliat founded La Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale (FSFI) and was responsible for the first Women’s Olympics. She started the Women's Games in response to Coubertin and the IOC’s resistance to including track and field for women in the Olympics. In 1922 the first women’s games were held as a one day track meet. The longest race included was 1000M. These games received a warm welcome, attracting thousands of spectators. After the women’s Olympics achieved success the IOC agreed to include 5 athletics events in the 1928 Olympics. The longest event was the 800M and was very competitive. Several of the female athletes collapsed during the race, leading to countries labeling the race frightful and the IIAF cancelled the 800M for women until 1960. When the 800M was reinstated for women in the Olympics it was responsible for a surge in popularity in distance running for women. Women around the United States wanted the opportunity to train and to race but they were denied this opportunity. Some woman were wanted to jump into men’s road races, having the desire to run longer than ¼ mile. For example, Julia Chase, a young American runner, attempted to enter a 5 mile road race. Her entry was denied and she was told not to go through the finish chute or her amateur status would be taken away. Fight to the Finish, Protests and Petitions
Kathrine Switzer was an athletic girl, playing numerous sports. In 1967 she officially entered the Boston Marathon signing the form as K.V Switzer. She started the race in a full sweat suit as it was a cool morning. As the weather cleared she removed her hood and sweatshirt and the press truck noticed...
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