IRC – Origin

Outline of events discussed so far, this time in chronological order:

1973 – Boston Marathon win

1974 – First Women’s International Marathon, Waldniel, W. Germany

1974  – World record 2:43:54, Western Hemisphere Marathon, Culver City, CA

1975 – World record 2:38.19, Nike-Oregon Track Club Marathon, Eugene, Oregon

1976 – Olympic year in Montreal

1977 – International Year of the Woman

1978 – 50-mile National Championships

1979 – World Cup, Montreal, and origin of the IRC.  Grete runs NYC in WR time.

1980 – IRC newsletter.  Moscow Olympics boycott

The International Runners’ Committee (IRC) was established in 1979.

The Nike corporation executives, particularly those in “running promotions,” and specifically Rob Strasser in “marketing,” listened to concerns about the injustices to women distance runners, brought to them by their newly assigned Masters athletes representative, my husband Tom Sturak.  Early in 1979, Nike ran a magazine advertisement in several major running publications, chiding the International Olympic Committee for its rejection of women distance runners and asking for reader response.  This ad campaign was the brainchild of Pam Magee, Nike Women’s Athletic Representative.  Literally thousands of supportive letters were received.  Consequently Nike began to investigate ways it could implement a long-term financial commitment in support of a strong and effective lobbying effort to  help women distance runners gain entry into the Olympic Games.  Meetings took place with Tom and I, Rob Strasser, Pam Magee and Nelson Farris.  Joe Henderson was asked to write a preliminary proposal, then to work with me and Tom to form a committee.  We met in April 1979 to prepare a second draft of the proposal and to plan an organizational meeting.

The committee consisted of the “movers and shakers” in the running community, with the common goal of lobbying international governing federations to include women’s distance races (3,000m, 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon) in the Olympic Games program.  Original members of the Executive Board included Joe Henderson, Executive Director, Jacqueline Hansen and Eleanora Mendonca (Brazil), Co-Presidents, Jeff Darman, Doris Brown Heritage, Nina Kuscsik, Leal-Ann Reinhart, Henley Roughton, Manfred Steffny (West Germany), Tom Sturak, Joan Ullyot, Ken Young, Sarolta Monspart (Hungary), Lyn Billington (England), Arthur Lydiard (New Zealand), Miki Gorman (Japan).

The Executive Committee met formally for the first time in August 1979 in Montreal at the Track & Field World Cup championships. (“Final Proposal” Nov. 1979, Joe Henderson)   The objectives were few and the focus very specific.  First, came the objective to eliminate inequality by expanding the women’s distance running program in the Olympic Games by 1984 with particular attention to the marathon and to add the 3,000-, 5,000- and 10,000-meter races.  Other objectives addressed initiatives that would support the first objective:  To include the women’s and men’s marathon, 5,000- and 10,000-meter races in the World Cup and the newly proposed World Championships to begin in 1983.  (The World Cup already had the 3,000-meter race.)

We met next in January of 1980, in San Francisco at the home of member Joan Ullyot.  Guest speaker, Michael Harrigan, who previously headed the Presidential Commission on Olympic Sports which evolved into the Sports Act passed by Congress in 1978.  He presented an historical perspective toward women’s involvement in Olympic sports.  It was clarified that new events  or changes  would have to go through the IAAF, from the Women’s Committee, then to the Technical Committee who, if convinced, makes recommendations to the IOC.  Our committee continued to monitor growth and progress of the women’s marathon internationally.  We took every opportunity possible for lobbying efforts.  Doris Brown Heritage was subsequently sent to attend the IAAF Technical Committee Meeting to lobby on our behalf.

The Technical Committee did vote in favor of a women’s marathon.  IAAF President Adrian Paulen personally delivered the recommendation to the IOC Program Commission (an Olympic consulting group responsible for sifting through the requests for new events).  The Program Commission inexplicably concluded that they “needed more information, more medico-scientific research and experience need to be achieved.”  The IRC telegraphed the IAAF to urge the IOC to overrule the Program Commission’s rejection or delay final action.  Paulen appealed repeatedly on behalf of women before the IOC Executive Committee.

Several factions supported the women’s marathon.  We hoped the women’s committee chair, Maria Hartman, would put forward a request for inclusion of all women’s distance events, but she failed to do so.  As the marathon came close to a vote at meetings in Moscow (1980), our inside information came from Robert Giegengack, member of the USOC.  He informed us that because of the US boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, the Eastern Block countries were predicted to vote against any proposal emanating from the West (i.e. the marathon).  Giegengack was instrumental in obtaining a postponement of the vote on the marathon until the committee next convened, in Los Angeles.  At that time and place, the marathon was indeed voted onto the Olympic Games program of events.

Peter Ueberroth, speaking through correspondence from his committee member Dick Sargent, replied to an advance notice that the women’s marathon was about to be included in the ’84 Olympic Games.  He stated that he could not accommodate any additional events or athletes, refusing any expansion of the program.  Hank Usher, Vice President of the LAOOC, insisted that the number of athletes going to Los Angeles for the Olympic Games be controlled.  Numerous protests were made to his statement, most notably by Robert Giegengack who proposed a resolution that the LAOOC enthusiastically support a women’s marathon if the IOC agrees to the addition of the event.  The proposal was passed unanimously.

In May, the LAOOC still stood firm against adding any new women’s events,  but a women’s marathon had gained written support from Los Angeles City Supervisor Kenneth Hahn.  Another boost came from USOC member Bob Giegengack, who wrote in New England Runner that “track and field . . . is the number one Olympic sport. To tell us to run without women in a given event is like telling a baseball team to play without a second baseman because it costs too much.”
The USOC resolved to seek the LAOOC’s unqualified support of the women’s marathon. Incredibly and inexplicably, the IOC Program Commission concluded just prior to the meeting at the Moscow games:
“We need more information. More medico-scientific research and experience need to be achieved . . . ”
Once again, it seemed that the women were out—and this at a time when demonstration sports like baseball were being considered seriously for inclusion.  In Moscow, the IAAF took some firm steps forward. It recognized the 5,000 and 10,000 meters as official world-record distances. It established that the IAAF World Championships in Helsinki in 1983 would include a women’s marathon. The 3,000 meters and the 400-meter hurdles were added to the Olympic program as new women’s events.

Telegrams flew back and forth from the International Runners Committee on the unresolved question of the Olympic marathon. Whether it was jeopardized by a backlash of officials angered over the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics or because more important matters took precedence is unclear, but the women’s marathon nearly became a dead issue. It was revived by the intervention of IAAF President Paulen and the now-enthusiastic support of the LAOOC.

Shortly before the Los Angeles meeting, confronted by the inexorable fact of another world record by Grete Waitz and a growing international clamor for justice, the IOC’s general membership reversed the Program Commission’s recommendation, opened the matter for reconsideration, and delegated the authority to its nine-member Executive Board. In the last week of February 1981, almost a century after the idea was first proposed by a Greek runner, Melpomene, the Executive Board of the IOC made it official: The women’s marathon would be added to the roster of Olympic events.

Next:  IRC’s International Class Action Lawsuit for 5,000 & 10,000m inclusion in Olympic Games