Did you know that it was only in 1984 that women were allowed to run the marathon in the Olympics (won by Joan Benoit). In fact, only in the 1960 Olympics were women allowed to participate in 5 events in track and field, compared to the 16 of men. But even after that in 1961, women were banned from participating in all US road races!
Surprisingly, while women weren’t allowed to run an Olympic Marathon, there was no such restriction on Ironman Triathlons. In 1979, just the second year of conception, Lyn Lemaire became the first woman to complete the Ironman and was fifth overall amongst 15 competitors. Perhaps that’s why the 50Women to Kona has garnered so much support, a fight for equal representation of men and women pro athletes in a sport which welcomed men and women racing alongside each other since the very beginning.
This week was International Women’s Day, and it made me think of the pioneer women in the field of running and triathlon. And in honour of the strong women who raced and fought for equality, my Friday Five this week is spotlight on Women in Running and Triathlon.
No list would be complete without this stalwart who ran the Boston Marathon with an official bib registered under the name K.V. Switzer and opened up the roads to Boston from Hopkinson to other female runners. Although race official Jock Semple tried to pull her off the course, she finished the race in 4:20 and was subsequently banned by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).
Pam Reed won the Badwater Ultramarathon in 2002, a 135-mile course that snakes through Death Valley in the middle of July when temperatures sore to 120 degrees. She was first overall, beating all the other women and men. She repeated her championship win in 2003 as overall winner. Talk about being a tough badass!
Leather was the first woman to run a sub-5 minute mile (4:59.6), just 23 days after Roger Bannister broke the four minute barrier and before John Landy and Wes Santee got to the sub-4. While the world remembers the three pioneers, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) did not recognize Leather’s new world record and refused to track women’s records at distances greater than 800 meters.
Because everyone with Ironman knowledge or aspirations recognizes the collapse and crawl that showed the toughness needed for an Ironman Triathlon. Moss collapsed a quarter of a mile from the finish line, then fell 100 yards from the finish line, 50 yards and then 15 yards shy of victory as she crawled on her hands and knees to 29 seconds behind the winner who had overtaken her without knowing what had happened.
She won Ironman Wisconsin in 2004. And that was not all. She won it while wearing a running skirt. She also founded Skirt Sports the same year, opening up a whole new world of racing in skirts to female athletes everywhere. Yes, people. One can be a serious, badass athlete WINNING races with a skirt. It’s just what we choose to wear and does not reflect on our dedication or ability.
These amazing women, amongst others, have paved the way for the rest of us.
Who’s your female athlete hero? What makes you look up to them?
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