Athletics

Kathrine Switzer: The woman who broke marathon’s gender barrier

Kathrine Switzer, the first official woman entrant in the Boston Marathon 50 years ago, receives her medal from Joann Flaminio, right, of the Boston Athletic Association,after finishing the marathon on Monday in Boston.   | Photo Credit: AP

When Kathrine Switzer decided to run the Boston Marathon in 1967, it was not an easy feat. It would be the first officially-registered participation by a woman in a marathon. Badgered and nearly battered in the process, Switzer persisted to complete the race in 1967. 50 years hence, in 2017, she ran the same marathon, with over 100 other women.

Having registered inconspicuously using her initials “K. V. Switzer”, the 20-year-old entered the race sporting lipstick, eyeliner and all trappings of ‘femininity’ under the number ‘261’. Her boyfriend, Tom Miller, fearing for her safety, encouraged her to wipe the make-up off of her face. She refused to hide.

In 1967, Switzer became the first woman to run with an official bib number in the Boston Marathon.

In 1967, Switzer became the first woman to run with an official bib number in the Boston Marathon.   | Photo Credit: AP

 

“I was very proud of being a woman. I had long hair, wore lipstick and eyeliner to the start line. All the men around me knew that I was a woman”, she told The Independent.

There was no apparent restriction on a woman’s participation in the marathon. “…nor was there anything indicating gender on the entry form. But almost all sports were for men. Women rarely participated. Most people assumed that women could not run the marathon distance and if they tried they would hurt themselves,” she remarks in her memoir.

Kathrine Switzer acknowledges the crowd as she is introduced before firing the gun to start the women's elite division at the start of the 2017 Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass., on Monday

Kathrine Switzer acknowledges the crowd as she is introduced before firing the gun to start the women's elite division at the start of the 2017 Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass., on Monday   | Photo Credit: AP

 

However, just two miles into the marathon, she was stopped by the race director, Jock Semple, who demanded that she hand over her bib and leave the race. He tried to jostle her, but was met with fierce resistance on Ms. Switzer’s part. Her boyfriend, who was running with her, pushed the official aside so that she could proceed with the race.

 

“…an official tried to eject me from the race simply because I was a woman. That event changed my life and, as a consequence, the lives of millions of women around the world.” , she writes in an essay in The New York Times.

Thus, she finished the marathon in 4 hours and 20 minutes in 1967. On Monday, she finished the same in 4 hours and 46b minutes, just falling behind by 26 minutes at age 70.

Women’s marathon has come a long way since 1967. The Boston Marathon officially admitted women in 1972 and Ms. Switzer’s ardent effort at advocating running for women saw the event being included in the Los Angeles Summer Olympics of 1984. Now, nearly half of all marathoners in the U.S. are women.

Kathrine Switzer crosses the finish line in the Boston Marathon, just 26 minutes behind her first marathon metrics of 1967.

Kathrine Switzer crosses the finish line in the Boston Marathon, just 26 minutes behind her first marathon metrics of 1967.   | Photo Credit: AP

 

What is the legacy she’s left behind? She offers this: “Women won the right to run it, and they do so powerfully, inspiring others.”

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 4:27:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/athletics/the-woman-who-broke-marathons-gender-barrier/article18107989.ece

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