Norwegian-born distance runner Grete Waitz has excelled in all forms of running, from track and field, to middle-distance road racing and the marathon. In 1975, she became world-known when she set a new world record for the 3,000 meters. In the following years, she won nine New York City Marathons.
As one of the most versatile female runners of the twentieth century, Grete Waitz captured two world records in the 3,000 meter as well as records in the 8-kilometer, 10-kilometer, 15-kilometer and the longer 10-mile. She also captured many marathon records.
She competed in Munich’s 1972 Olympics in the 1,500 meter as one of the first women allowed to compete in this event. Up until 1960, when the women’s 800-meter race was reinstated, women had been barred from any distance longer than 200 meters after two women fainted at the finish line during the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. Although Waitz did not place in the event she received great encouragement from her fellow Olympic athletes.
Waitz’s running talent caught the attention of Fred Lebow, president of the New York Road Runners Club and director of the world-famous New York City Marathon. In 1978, Lebow contacted Waitz and asked her to come to the United States and race in his November marathon as part of a select group of elite, world-class athletes invited to race each year.
Although Waitz officially retired in 1991, after suffering a number of running-related injuries (like many distance runners), the sport of running remained an important part of her life. Recognizing early in her career her potential as a role model for others, Waitz coauthored the book World Class (1986), in which she recounts her own rise in the sport and also provides women of all abilities with training, motivation and racing advice.
In 1983, she inaugurated the ‘Grete Waitz Run’, a five-kilometer women’s-only race through the streets of Oslo. Over 3,000 runners turned out for the first race and by 1993, the field had expanded to 40,000, many of whom were inspired to begin running by Waitz. She was honored for her many other contributions to distance running in the United States by the National Distance Running Hall of Fame, which inducted her as its first foreign member. In 1991, Runner’s World magazine echoed that honor, naming Waitz as female runner of the quarter century.
Grete Waitz achieved an iconic status in women’s distance running. In 2005, she was diagnosed with cancer. In her last years, Waitz worked tirelessly for the Norwegian cancer charity ‘Aktiv Mot Kreft’ (Active Against Cancer). – She did not wish to put too much focus on herself and her disease but hoped she could contribute in some way to help others, Helle Aanesen, manager of the Active Against Cancer, said.
Grete Waitz passed away at the age of 57 on April 19th 2011.
Grete had such a long, wonderful career that we all have hundreds of memories of her. When I close my eyes, I see her pigtails swishing rhythmically like a metronome as she churned up First Avenue in New York. I think I will always see those pigtails, Amby Burfoot wrote in his obituary.
In 2008, Norway’s king Harald bestowed the prestigious Order of St. Olav on her for being a role model for female athletes and she was honored with a statue at Bislett Stadium in Oslo. In 2010, she received the International Olympic Committee’s Women and Sport Award for Europe.
Text by: Anette Broteng Christiansen, ThorNews
Categories: Sports & Health