Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. Robert Frost
Excerpt, chapter five: A Long Time Coming
The last running event I witnessed in December 1971, the Western Hemisphere Marathon in Culver City, was momentous – both at the time and for what it would mean to me later. Laszlo Tabori actually lived right on the Culver City course, so he was always present for the race. My training partner Judy Graham and I joined him there that day because we had a teammate, Cheryl Bridges, who was running the marathon. She did not train with us but competed for the club.
We supported Cheryl in her marathon as she set a world record of 2:49:40, becoming the first woman to run under 2:50. I was intrigued. Watching Cheryl click off those miles over the marathon course looked like fun to me. She was strong but relaxed, a beautiful runner with great running form and a stride that just flowed.
The monument at the finish line of the Western Hemisphere Marathon lists the 1971 winner as “Patricia Bridges.” Her first name changed only once, while her last name changed with every marriage: from Pedlow to Bridges to Flanagan to the current Treworgy. Her daughter is the Olympian Shalane Flanagan.
Cheryl was an inspiration to me. I could not help but think that I could do what she did. I could run with her on the track and in cross-country, and perhaps I could do a marathon like her too. I vowed right then and there that I would try the Culver City race the next year.
However, returning to the track with Laszlo the following week, I was caught up in our routine schedule of indoor track in the winter, outdoor track in the spring and cross-country in the fall, with a little vacation time during summer before laying our base for the fall season. It was in that brief summer vacation that I was lured away from my usual loops around a park to venture out on the roads for a workout.
When I wasn’t running on the track, my easy days were for running at Balboa Park in the San Fernando Valley. Judy and I were under strict orders to run only on dirt or grass surfaces, and I mean always. One day we met at Balboa at the same time a group of male runners were meeting for a road workout. Some of them also trained with us at the track, so we chatted.
They were led by a male runner in his 60s, Monty Montgomery. I’d seen this group regularly, and noted that they seemed to have a lot of fun, as they told stories and ran off on the roads headed for the beach and other interesting loops, while Judy and I ran in circles around the park. Twice I went with them, for a 10-miler and a 14-miler.
So when cross-country season ended in November with my best performance to date, eighth place in nationals, my thoughts turned back to that Western Hemisphere Marathon I wanted to do in December. I really wasn’t prepared with any long runs in my repertoire except those two workouts I snuck in many months earlier.
I didn’t let that stop me, and I asked Laszlo if I could enter (asking permission was requisite). I half- expected to be yelled at. After all, his attitude was that the marathon was something you ran if you were too slow to compete at the middle distances. However, what I received was almost philosophical. He said that there are some things I had to find out for myself, and that there were things he didn’t try and would never know.
Besides, he added, I was the most stubborn runner he knew, and he thought I would go far. I still do not know if he meant “far” as in I had a future in marathoning, or “far” as in I’d go about 18 miles and drop out. No matter. I had his blessing, and that’s what mattered.
I credited a college teammate, Mike Maggart, with getting me through the first 15 miles at seven-minute pace, and Doug Schwab for parking his bike and running the last mile in with me. (I ought to have been disqualified, I suspect.) In reality, I don’t think my friends could ride their bikes near the end because my pace had slowed so much. As I wrote in my journal:
Those last four miles are almost unbearable, particularly the last two. Up to 22, it seemed almost a relaxed seven-minute pace. Then the race began for four miles. And worth every sore muscle – a thousand times over.
Cheryl Bridges did not run in the Culver City race that year, and I won my first marathon in a slow 3:15. I probably could have walked my final miles faster than I was running.
I recall that upon crossing that finish line I uttered the words “never again!” Later at the awards ceremony, however, I received my medal and thought how I would prepare differently for next time. I was hooked.
Interestingly enough, this race was a turning point for my family, who up to that point did not deem running to be worth my time. In fact, I fibbed about going out for a run with Judy that morning to cover up running in the marathon. I left a note on the table at home early that morning to say we went for a run, and made up some other excuse about shopping or a movie to buy more time for the day.
The only reason I had to make excuses was because it was the day for a family reunion at our house to celebrate Thanksgiving, my birthday and birthdays for several other relatives. I knew I’d be late, thus needing the excuse.
By winning the race, I was delayed by the awards ceremony and thought I would be in big trouble. However, when I snuck in the door and tried to slip into my seat at the dinner table, my family broke into applause. My aunt resided near the site of the marathon and had reported the whole thing, and then my winning photo had appeared on the local TV news.
Looking back at 1984, there were many significant moments in the month of June and over the summer. In my last post, I wrote about the US Track & Field Olympic Trials at the LA Memorial Coliseum, where on June 17th, Joan Benoit Samuelson won the women’s 10,000-meter exhibition race and Julie Brown won the 5000-meter race. Both of these women were already on the Olympic Marathon team.
The reason these two track events were called “exhibition” races was because they were still not on the official Olympic program. If you read the last post, you read all about the international class action lawsuit we brought against the Olympic Committee and the other governing bodies who ruled our sport.
Looking at the present, June 2017, we just celebrated Joan’s best known victory as the first women’s Olympic Marathon gold medalist in 1984, being honored yesterday, June 21st, mounting a plaque at the LA Coliseum alongside former President of LA84 Foundation and Olympian Anita De Frantz.
Among the people who gathered to honor these two extraordinary women yesterday, was a friend of mine, Sherrill Kushner, a lawyer who in 1984 published an article which is arguably the best summary of the lawsuit written.
A day in LA 33 years ago, it was a long time coming.
It’s been thirty-three years since Joan Benoit won the first women’s Olympic Marathon, in 1984 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. But how many of you remember (or even knew) that Joan also won the women’s 10,000-meter race, at the USA Track & Field Olympic Trials on June 17, 1984, also in the Coliseum? Wait! Track and Field fans might recall, oh yes, there were no Olympic berths for the 10,000m for women, and not for the women’s 5,000m either. Right. In an act of civil disobedience, if you will, we held an exhibition 5,000m and 10,000m race to point out the glaring omission of these women’s events, with stellar fields of women more than worthy of an Olympic stage. Sad but true, this was the third set of exhibition events since women had been waiting that long (1976, 1980 and 1984 Trials held exhibition races).
(Here are the lists of entrants for the Exhibition Races at the US Olympic Trials, thanks to Brian Holiday. Results can be found below, thanks to my late husband Tom Sturak’s files, who saved everything.)
I think it’s quite fitting to re-visit the International Runners Committee’s efforts, advocating for women’s distance events, including an international class action lawsuit. Amidst all the litigation, we have Joan Benoit’s stunning performance in the 10,000m with the fastest American time of the year, coming off her miraculous win at the Olympic Marathon Trials just days after knee surgery. She said the 10,000m was the indicator she needed to tune-up for the Olympic Marathon. June 17th will be the 33rd anniversary of her Exhibition Race win, and how timely, on June 21st she will be honored with the unveiling of a plaque mounted on the walls of the Coliseum to commemorate her Olympic win and the legacy she has left in her wake. Indeed, her legacy continues to grow today.
A LONG TIME COMING: Running through the women’s running revolution Chapter 20 “Pressing our Case”
With the women’s marathon now joining the Olympics in 1984, the 5000- and 10,000-meter races remained left off that program. The International Runners Committee’s focus turned to these events, but without the support of the IAAF there appeared to be no chance of adding them. In brief, the president and secretary of the federation told me personally that, despite having satisfied all the prerequisites for inclusion, this wouldn’t happen for these “boring” events that would not “sell tickets at the gate.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) completed a study it commissioned to assess women’s participation in the Olympic Games, reporting that women had access to only one-third the number of events the men had available to them. The ACLU director in Los Angeles, Ramona Ripston, then threatened legal action against the IOC.
I heard her discuss this in a 1980 radio interview, and I contacted her to offer my support. Although it appeared that the IOC was mending its ways by adding the women’s marathon, I informed the ACLU of the blatant discrimination and omission of the 5000 and 10,000. We met, and I was sent on a mission to see if I could prove that women runners satisfied the rules for adding new events.
I did not know if the ACLU expected never to hear from me again or if it was testing my resolve, but I took up the challenge. With Nike’s assistance and resources, we, the IRC, were able to obtain signatures on right-to- sue letters from nearly 80 women in almost 30 countries, representing the top world-ranked women in the 5000 and 10,000. The letters had gone out in 10 different languages to these women on every continent.
Attorney Susan McGrievy offered to take on our case. A former long-distance swimmer, she was compassionate to our cause. On August 10, 1983, the lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles. The announcement was made with ACLU lawyers on August 11, on NBC television’s “Today Show” in Los Angeles and simultaneously at a press conference hosted by Nike at the first World Track and Field Championships in Helsinki. There I was with fellow IRC member Eleonora Mendonca, joined by Mary Decker, fresh off the medal stand for her 1500 and 3000 wins, and Grete Waitz, the marathon winner. They served as spokespersons at our press conference before worldwide media.
Defendants included the International Olympic Committee, United States Olympic Committee, International Amateur Athletic Committee, The Athletics Congress, Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission. This unprecedented suit alleged that the defendants violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, the federal Public Accommodation Act, the equal protection clauses under the U.S. Constitution and California Constitution, the Amateur Sports Act and international law prohibiting sex discrimination such as in the United Nations Charter.
Granted, it was difficult to name some of the defendants who included committee members sympathetic to our cause. For example, The Athletics Congress consisted of the Women’s Long Distance Running Committee, which was certainly part of this fight. However, the lawyers explained that all parties involved had to be included in order to close all loopholes and any possibility of getting a run-around while seeking administrative remedies.
Additionally the international bodies, the IOC and IAAF, were adamant about protecting the integrity of the process, which angered me to no end since their almighty process was placed above the needs and desires of its constituents, the athletes. Besides, the “process” was whatever suited the IOC and IAAF, and was not enforced consistently, never mind fairly.
Consider IOC Charter Rules 32 and 33, regarding the process for adding new events. There were examples of new additions that did not meet these requirements. Furthermore, they were new sports, and we were only asking for new events within an already existing sport.
At least the age-old argument that women were not suited to run the 5000 and 10,000 was no longer an issue, since the marathon had been added. The most likely reason for not adding these two events was that they were not cost-effective. This is exactly what was told to me personally by Primo Nebiolo, the president, and Luciano Barra, the executive secretary, of the IAAF when they called the distance races “boring,” and unattractive to ticket buyers. So the 5000 and 10,000 were never going to be included, as far as they were concerned.
This issue was perhaps the most outrageous of all. So that’s why the marathon was added alone, because it represented television and ticket revenue? This statement alone sent me running to the ACLU, thinking lawsuit. As I saw it, we had exhausted all alternate options.
On March 6, 1984, the ACLU attorneys who represented 82 women long-distance runners, from 26 different countries on five continents, filed a motion for a default judgment in the lawsuit before Judge David Kenyon in Federal District Court in Los Angeles. They also asked for a preliminary injunction against all the defendants, including the LAOOC. In other words, it would compel the Los Angeles organizers to immediately add the 5000- and 10,000-meter events to the 1984 Olympic Games.
At the same time, a press conference was held in Eugene, Oregon, with spokespersons Mary Decker, Leann Warren, Cathie Twomey, Sissel Grottenberg (Norway) and myself. We maintained that the exclusion of the two events in question disenfranchised women distance runners worldwide, including those appearing with me in Eugene. I said, “Without the inclusion of these races in the 1984 Olympics, a whole generation of women runners will be denied the right to run for Olympic gold. All we want to do is to achieve parity with the men.”
As one lawyer stated, “Up until 1983, Jacqueline Hansen and the IRC kept pushing within the system to get the middle-distance races, but no one within the system would take responsibility for what was requested. The bringing of the lawsuit was not done as a political statement, but was brought as a last resort because the plaintiffs felt there was no other solution for them.”
In a 38-page decision, Judge Kenyon rejected the lawsuit on Monday, April 16, 1984 – news that I learned in a phone call in Boston, from Los Angeles Times reporter Julie Cart.
On June 8, ACLU lawyers argued their case in the Federal Court of Appeals in Los Angeles, after winning a motion to expedite an appeal before Judges J. Clifford Wallace, Harry Pregerson and Arthur L. Alarcon. The judges promised their ruling within a week.
Los Angeles Times Special Events Director Will Kern directed the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials in June 1984. He brought a sponsor, Etonic shoes, to the IRC to stage exhibition races in both the women’s 5000 and 10,000. Although it was sad that these events were still controversial, I was very pleased Etonic stepped forward to make the races possible, and I agreed heartily to be the race director.
Ordinarily I would never pack the field with so many runners in any race on the track, but I was overwhelmed at the response from women runners and could not turn anyone away. Even assigning high standards to ensure quality races, there were nearly 30 runners in each race!
When the announcement was made in the stadium that these events would not be seen in the upcoming Olympic Games, you could hear the crowd booing the IOC and IAAF emphatically. Spontaneous cheering followed when the announcer offered that the women were running to make a statement.
Both races brought exciting performances. On June 17, Joan Benoit (Samuelson) was the decisive winner in the 10,000, finishing in the nation’s fastest time to date (32:07) in front of 20,500 fans. The 5000 on June 24 was decided at the tape between Julie Brown (15:39.5) and Betty Jo Springs (15:39.7) before a crowd of 31,500, the largest audience of the entire trials.
It was ironic that reporter Marlene Cimons seated herself behind IAAF officials Nebiolo and Barra in the stands. Since she knew the whole backstory to the lawsuit, she leaned over to ask if they still thought the races were boring. (They pretended not to understand English.)
In between these two events, on June 22, the Federal Appeals Court judges ruled against the women runners, basically two to one. Judge Wallace stated that the Unruh Civil Rights Act, upon which our case was based, did not require “separate but equal events for women.” This made no sense to me whatsoever, because it was not the women runners but the governing bodies that established gender-separated events throughout the Olympic Games events.
Judge Pregerson, who voted for us, countered, “If that were true, then there would be no requirement to have separate bathrooms in public libraries [for example].” If there was anything to be salvaged from the proceedings, it was the eloquent dissent written by Judge Pregerson. He began by quoting the founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, who said the Games were meant to be an “exaltation of male athleticism” with “female applause as its reward.” Pregerson concluded:
“The IOC made concessions to the widespread popularity of women’s track and field by adding two distance races this year [3000 meters and marathon]. The IOC refused, however, to grant women athletics equal status by including all events in which women compete internationally. In so doing, the IOC postpones indefinitely the equality of athletic opportunity that it could easily achieve this year in Los Angeles.
“When the Olympics move to other countries, some without America’s commitment to human rights, the opportunity to tip the scales of justice in favor of equality may slip away. Meanwhile, the Olympic flame – which should be a symbol of harmony, equality and justice – will burn less brightly over the Los Angeles Olympic Games.”
For the record, the 10,000-meter race for women was added to the World Track and Field Championships in Rome, 1987, and to the Olympic Games in Seoul, 1988. The 5000 replaced the 3000 at the 1995 World Championships, and the following year at the Olympic Games in Atlanta. The women’s 3,000- meter steeplechase went on the program at the 2005 World Championships in Rome, and then into the Beijing Olympic Games of 2008. With these additions, the women’s slate of distance events finally gained parity with the men’s.
Today I’m feeling blessed, fortunate and nostalgic all at once while reaching for words to describe the synchronicity and synergy that I’m feeling simultaneously today.
In the last 24 hours I have been reunited, albeit electronically, with my dear friend and colleague Henley Gabeau after countless years. Next, out-of-the-blue, my phone rang announcing caller Doris Heritage. It always makes my day whenever I see her name. Our near-hour-long conversation made my year! At least to date it has — I’ll allow it’s early in the year and who knows if and how it could get any better.
Talk about synchronicity!
Doris and Henley in the same couple of hours! It’s a good day.
What’s the connection, you ask?
Henley published an article yesterday in which she defined the impetus to her feminist activism being the year in which we met at the 1977 International Women’s Conference in Houston. Following this event, we shared our experience as International Runners Committee members, with the common goal to include women’s distance events in the Olympic Games. Doris called me, specifically with questions about the IRC. She was being interviewed by a journalist and she needed some information. Details aside, we spent the rest of the time reminiscing.
Henley’s excellent article came to my attention several times, thanks to RRCA Executive Director Jean Knaack, and former RRCA President Jeff Darman for posting Henley’s article yesterday, and also to running podiatrist Ed Lopez for tagging me on a separate posting of the same article. (Moments like this make FB worthwhile.) So I quickly sent off an email to Henley and she immediately wrote back that she was hoping this would find me. Henley, you should know, started the Women’s Distance Festival in the RRCA under the leadership of Jeff Darman. Here is her article.
If you have read my blog before and/or read my book chapter 15, “Years of the Women,” you see that I wrote my version of the encounter Henley and I had in 1977. Besides the two of us that day, I was with Leal-Ann Reinhart and Henley was with Peggy Kokernot and Mary Cullen. Peggy was the star of the conference event torch relay that day and Mary was/is a Houston runner and benefactor of running and the arts. I’m happy to say that best friend Leal and I never lost touch, and that Peggy and I had our long awaited reunion last June at the Olympic Track & Field Trials. As well, I do keep track of Mary Cullen from afar through mutual friends.
As for all the other IRC members, I’ve happily remained in touch all this time with Joe Henderson ( lucky me – who better to edit my book), Janet Heinonen, Joan Ullyot, and Nina Kuscsik. I re-connected with Lyn Billington on FB and with Eleonora Mendonca at Boston, both in 2016. Ken Young and I were in touch during the book writing, when he provided accuracy in race results for my book. Of course, all of us mourn the loss of three members, my late husband Tom Sturak, teammate Miki Gorman and renowned coach Arthur Lydiard. The only member I cannot account for is Sarolta Monspart of Hungary.
Margaret Mead wrote (and I favor this quotation), “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.” Synergy comes to mind.
Today, Henley is on her way to the women’s march in D.C. and I’m sure we all wish her Godspeed. In her words, she hopes transformative groups will evolve and bring change for the betterment of others: “My belief, based on experience, is that women can do it — and will — and the march will sow those seeds.” I believe Peggy is joining a march too, closer to her home. Godspeed. It seems feminists of the 70s are unstoppable, they just find another cause. Wherever you may find yourself today, whatever you are doing, Godspeed.
Four days, three nights. A kazillion reunions. and memories. Priceless.
Who knew how valuable this long weekend would turn out! And to think I very nearly missed the opportunity. I am reeling from the effects and cannot believe how many exciting races and finish lines I witnessed, rain and shine both, and how many friends I reconnected with. What an amazing four days. I just did not want it to ever end.
This was all made possible by the happenstance connection with a dear “old” friend dating back to 1977.
We met at the first National Women’s Conference in her home town of Houston, Texas. My teammate and best friend, Leal-Ann Reinhart and I attended to seek support and bring attention to our equal rights issue, the lack of women’s distance events beyond the 1500-meter in the Olympic Games. This was a prelude to the creation of the International Runners Committee two years later (1979). In Houston, we lobbied when and wherever we could, and had the good fortune to meet Henley Gibble (Gabeaux), from the RRCA who organized a torch relay which crossed the country to arrive at the conference in Houston. Here’s an excerpt from a previous blog on this website:
If I was influenced by the turbulent sixties to question authority, I was further influenced by the seventies feminist movement. The United Nations proclaimed 1975 the International Women’s Year. As a result, in the US President Gerald Ford established a commission for its observance and events were held over the following two years. In 1977, state conferences held across the country, which over 130,000 women attended. President Jimmy Carter appointed Bella Abzug to preside over the final culminating event in Houston, Texas, attended by more than 2,000 delegates. Houston native and Texas congresswoman, Barbara Jordan, delivered the keynote speech. A torch relay originated in Seneca, New York and was carried by 3,000 women en route to Houston. Dignitaries in attendance included Lady Bird Johnson, Rosalyn Carter, Betty Ford, Coretta Scott King and Billy Jean King.
According to the Handbook of Texas, “the conference opened with a clear sense of purpose as well as much fanfare…..” and “Although the National Women’s Conference was not a lawmaking body and could only propose non-binding recommendations, it was directed to arrive at a national plan of action to help remove sex barriers and better utilize women’s contributions…….to be submitted to the president and Congress….” It was these lofty goals which attracted me and best friend Leal-Ann Reinhart to the conference. We went seeking help for our cause.
“Twenty-six major topics were considered by the delegates, including the ERA, abortion, lesbian rights, child care, minority women, homemakers, battered women, education, rape, health, and a cabinet-level women’s department.” The enormity and importance of these issues empowered me and at the same time humbled me to the point that I felt fortunate that I had rights at all to run, and perhaps was being somewhat selfish to ask for more.
What I could not anticipate at the time, I learned years, indeed decades later. I had met a few key women in Houston that week in 1977: Peggy Kokernot, Henley Gibble, and Mary Cullen. From making those acquaintances, I could not have imagined their future influences and activism.
Peggy Kokernot was the amazing young woman who picked up the torch relay, in the state of Alabama where Phyllis Schlafly, of the “Stop ERA” movement, had convinced all Alabama women not to support this feminist organization event. There was a 16-mile stretch left vacant of runners that marathoner Peggy was asked to cover, which she did and saved the torch relay from being stopped in its tracks. Her picture on the cover of TIME magazine, combined with her winning the Houston Marathon shortly after the convention, and the strength she found after experiencing the conference opened opportunities she never dreamed of, according to her mother, Edith Grinell, in an interview by Jo Freeman, “The Last Mile – 1977.”
In retrospect, I am pleasantly surprised at the effect this event had not only for me, for each of my friends. The seeds were sown, and the years ahead were full of action. This “child of the sixties” had become a “feminist of the seventies.”
Peggy and I have been reconnected recently, after our last meeting in 1984 at the first-ever Olympic Women’s Marathon Trials in Olympia, Washington. We decided to have our reunion at this year’s Track & Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon. The minute we reunited, it was like we were never apart. I loved meeting her sister, Diana Kokernot, another energetic, adventurous woman after my heart.
Hanging out frequently at the Wild Duck and the Hoka One One shop next door was a great place for reunions, including Peter Thompson and Peanut Harms, who are in part responsible for the non-stop party at the Wild Duck. I had a heartwarming reunion with my longstanding friend Pat Devaney. There was Tom Derderian, Ron Wayne, and Christian Cushing Murray, who I’ve been seeing at other running events around the country, always happy to find them. Then there was one huge surprise –John Bragg. John was my first and everlasting adidas representative, who outfitted me during all my competitive years.
I got to visit with my closest, dearest lifelong friends (at least running lifetime), Joe Henderson, Janet & Tom Heinonen. And there was my Napa connection, Fran Vella. Joe Henderson edited my book, and Fran proof-read it. They know my life story better than I do! I think my enthusiasm to decide to come to Eugene rubbed off on my good friend, Mitch Garner when we recently saw each other in June. He decided to come and represent RRCA as the organization’s newly elected President. We certainly enjoyed this together.
One breakfast, Joe introduced me to Kees Tuinzing, who happens to coach Sister Marion Irvine. What a shock! I have a running photo of us running the Daisy Hill run in the Bay area back in 1978. It’s a story for another day, but I always wondered who he was!
Hard to know which of three such discoveries surprised me the most! One surprise after another! All in all, a successful set of reunions.
Now that the Boston Marathon is behind me by at least a week, I can reflect on what was a magical weekend. As the saying goes, you may leave Boston, but it never leaves you, and I do carry a piece of Boston in my heart.
This year was the 50th anniversary of Bobbi Gibb’s trek through the 1966 Boston Marathon as the very first woman to ever finish, and she did so three years consecutively, 1966, ’67 & ’68!
Boston 2016 celebrated her and 50 years of women running for all of us following in Bobbi’s footsteps. Amby Burfoot’s book, “The First Ladies of Running,” came out just in time for the festivities to tell the stories of 22 women runners who, as Amby says, were unstoppable. “Got that right!”
The First Ladies were treated like the royal family all weekend long, as we appeared at receptions, banquets, ceremonies, including the BAA Champions’ Breakfast and the BAA Marathon Milestones. Sara Mae Berman, who followed Bobbi as the subsequent three-time winner in Boston for 1969, ’70 and ’71, hosted several of us, First Ladies, in her large, rambling house in Cambridge. What fun we had, like a best friends reunion!
It was my honor to be named a keynote speaker at the Team in Training Inspiration Luncheon, hosted by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. In truth, every TNT runner is a story of inspiration in their own right. They run as double-goal athletes, because they are not just running for their best time; they’re running for a greater good, running for the cause.
Here’s what I told them, as I connected the dots for all my personal connections between Boston Marathon history, Team in Training, and some of my dearest friends from Hawaii to Boston:
Boston is Where Dreams Come True
In 1966, a young woman named Bobbi Gibb asked to enter the Boston Marathon and was told no, there is no women’s division. She questioned why. And she ran anyway, without a number.
Her dream came true at Boston. More than once.
In 1966, I was a senior in high school in Los Angeles. A new PE teacher on campus, named Dixie Griffin, observed that while we had a boys’ track team, we did not have a girls’ track team. She questioned why. And she started one anyway. I failed at all other sports, but I liked to run. I joined her team.
In late 1972, I had just won the first marathon I ever tried. I had been inspired to try because my teammate Cheryl Bridges ran marathons and I witnessed her world record, the first sub-2:50 ever run by a woman. A friend of mine from Yale said “You should go to Boston. They just opened a women’s division for the first time.” I said YES. Why not?!
In 1973, I won Boston and my life changed forever. Thank you to Dixie Griffin for introducing me to track. Thank you to Bobbi Gibb for opening the door to Boston. Humongous thanks to my lifelong coach, Laszlo Tabori, for believing in me, for training me hard, and preparing me for anything. He made everything possible. And a dream came true for me in Boston.
Twelve wins out of fifteen marathons in my competitive years, including two world records and being the first to break 2:40, I am grateful and satisfied that I achieved more than I set out to do when I joined my high school track team. That’s for certain. However, I also realized as the number one woman marathoner in the world for a period of three years, there was an injustice – because I was a woman, I could not run in the Olympic Games. Women were limited to the one mile run as the longest distance allowed. As President of the International Runners Committee, we lobbied and sued until at last we had a marathon for the first time in 1984, but had to drag through the courts before all the women’s distance races were included. Through it all, I finally had the opportunity to join scores of women able for the first time to go to an Olympic Trials in May of 1984.
On April 16, 1984 at Boston, I qualified for the first ever women’s Olympic Trials Marathon – just in time because it was the last day possible to qualify. I finished against all odds, given I was recovering from injuries that required surgery, and ran two failed prior attempts to qualify, plus finished Boston in a heavy rainstorm, in the grips of hypothermia, where I completely blacked out. The only thought in my mind as I fought to finish was this mantra, “I deserve to finish, I deserve to finish.” This was combined with exhaustion of working on the women distance runners’ lawsuit, which ironically enough began in court on that fateful day, April 16, 1984. It could not have been a more dramatic day in my life. Or so I thought.
But my dream came true in Boston again. I was going to the Olympic Trials, the first ever. I was past my prime as an athlete. I was sick and injured, but it WAS my Olympics experience nonetheless.
In 1996, I pulled myself out of running retirement to run the 100th Anniversary and was so happy to participate in the best way I knew how. Running. All the living champions returned to Boston to participate, running or not. It was a glorious time. It was the biggest field Boston ever experienced, at the time. That would change.
In 2013, I celebrated my 40th Anniversary at Boston. Several of my friends purposely qualified for the Boston Marathon that year, in order to join me in celebration. A few of them ran for Team in Training. I had been coaching Jeaney Garcia for years, I just began coaching Michele Tritt, and although I was not his coach, we have a mutual friend from Honolulu in Kit Smith who has run many times in honor of the daughter he lost to Leukemia. He is an inspiration to all of us. Kit’s daughter, Patty was 19 years-old and in college when she succumbed to leukemia. Her diaries were memorialized in a book her father, an accomplished sports writer, published. He maintains the most positive attitude I have ever seen. And he continues to run marathons and run for the cause.
On this day, I had the honor of shooting the starting gun for the women’s race. And I was shuttled with a police escort back to the finish line in time for the first finishers. I was even able to gain access to stand right on the finish line to greet each of my runners as they raced in. And because we were staying on Copley Plaza, I could escort them each back and forth to the hotel from the finish. It was on our way back to the finish line for my final runner to come in, my best friend Jeaney, when we heard and felt the two blasts. Kaboom, kaboom. Like a sonic boom and an earthquake (at least it seemed so to this Californian). You all know what took place. We were separated by two bomb blasts near the finish line and it took hours to reunite and to know that each other was safe. We cried and hugged when we finally found each other. Others were not so fortunate. We grieved for a long, long time. I had no idea in 1984 that, in my experience, Boston could ever hold more drama. I had no idea drama could be so tragic.
In 2014, most of us returned to Boston, perhaps for closure (if there is ever such a thing). I’ve looked up the definition of “closure.” The dictionary says it’s a feeling of finality or resolution, especially after a traumatic experience. A letting-go of what once was. A complete acceptance of what has happened and an honoring of the transition away from what’s finished to something new.
Jeaney ran for TNT again. She could’ve taken the free pass to return and run on her own, as offered to all of those who did not get to finish in 2013. But she chose to fundraise all over again. She was honoring LLS, she was honoring Kit Smith, and she respected the fact that she might be taking the spot of someone else would have raised funds for a cause. She did it because it was the right thing to do. She did it because she is the most positive person on the planet and I am enriched because of our deep friendship and unconditional love.
She did it because she believed dreams do come true in Boston.
While we waited for Jeaney at the finish line again, I witnessed the most gratifying finish by the first American in over 30 years to win Boston. Meb. That’s all I need to say. Just one name. Meb. A huge sigh of relief came over the city of Boston when Meb crossed the finish line. I even got a big hug at the finish from Meb. I cried and for the first time, I was absolutely speechless, muttering my words and shedding tears of joy. All was right with the world again. Boston Strong. Take back the roads. Take back our race. Everyone was saying these words. And I do believe the runners outnumbered the record number I mentioned that ran at the 100th Boston. Everyone wanted to participate and support. Boston Strong.
For me, for my entourage, we didn’t quite find closure until Jeaney crossed her finish line. And then she did. And allow me to read the conclusion she wrote to a heart-warming article that was published in Marathon & Beyond magazine.
“I followed the advice of the champions at the breakfast I went to before the race. I made the Boston Marathon the best experience possible, making friends and memories that I’ll never forget. I used to run to get the fastest time, but as Amby Burfoot refreshingly reminded me: been there, done that. My coach and best friend, Jacqueline Hansen, has been with me over many years and many hurdles, including the 1996 Olympic Trials Marathon where I came up short on time and injured but somehow finished. I suffered more than I had in childbirth and felt almost as proud. Jacqueline always said I was in sub 2:50-shape for a good portion of my fastest years, but unfortunately, I did not prove it in races often enough.
“At 52-years-old, I now know that I can prove that every race is a great race, no matter your time. Jacqueline continues to remind me to just run what I can, where and when I can. I will always run for the survivors, the fighters, the taken. I deserve to finish, as Jacqueline the champion said. We all deserve to finish.”
“I run to refresh my body and soul. I run because it brings me life. I run to be the best version of myself. I remember those who can’t run and what they would give to have this gift. There is no such thing as a bad run because every day is a blessing, and I am proud of every run I do. And as it proclaims on the back of my TNT singlet, I run for those who cannot run for themselves.”
Boston 2016, a story in pictures
Day One: Welcome Reception
Day Two: TNT Inspiration Luncheon & Evening of Marathon Milestones
Day Three: Champions’ Breakfast, First Ladies Seminar & AMAA Banquet
One of the many things I love about my good friend, Deborah Hafford, is how she has her finger on the pulse of women’s — je ne sais quoi — multi-faceted women’s issues, be it sports, business, social or other issues.
Deborah shared a NY Times article with me in which runner Lauren Fleshman makes this observation: “Women have never been more marketable in sports than they are now, from U.S. soccer to Serena. Forty-plus years since Title IX means we have our first generation of supportive parents and coaches who grew up with the idea of female athletes not being horrifying. People are training girls harder than ever.” This interesting observation brought to mind a related statement I heard recently from soccer star, Abby Wombach.
In anNPR article about Abby Wombach‘s retirement, she is portrayed as: “the youngest of seven, who says when she (Abby) was a little girl, she knew she had to be loud and tough to stand out. Her mom put her on a boys’ soccer team at 9 to challenge her.”
In this interview, her mother, Judy Wombach, said “And come to find out, many of the young women that were on the U.S. national team played boys during their early years. I did something right and didn’t know I did it.”
From an insightful English blog, “Run Young 50” , writer Katie Holmes states that “American women love to run marathons. In 2014, 43% of marathon finishers in US races were women, the highest percentage of any country in the world. In the UK the figure is 34%. And American women love half marathons even more than marathons. They outnumber male competitors at the distance, making up 61% of finishers in 2014.”
A cursory look into statistics of USA running indicates this trend to be true. For example, in the Running USA 2015 State of the Sport, one particular statistic shows “Females account for 10.7 million finishers nationwide and continue to represent 57% from event fields. Males in 2014 represented over 8 million finishers in U.S. races.”
Writer Katie Holmes further points out that “fifty years ago there was virtually no opportunity for women to take part in endurance running, let alone run a marathon. Women were prohibited from running further than 200 metres at the Olympics from 1928 until 1960 when the 800 metres was reintroduced to the Olympics. It took another 12 years before the 1500 metres featured in the programme and the women’s marathon was not added until 1984 . . .” She kindly gave my book a very positive review, and pointed to the work of all the early women running pioneers with credit for laying the groundwork leading to this tremendous growth of women’s athletics.
I am not a statistician, but I’ve seen enough anecdotal evidence in my observations to verify this growing trend of women gaining ground in sports overall. Of course, we had a lot of ground to catch up in the first place. Looking back over time, it seems so antiquated that, for instance, one early advocate, Nina Kuscsik, had to stage a sit-in at the start of the 1971 New York City Marathon to protest the separate start times of the men’s and women’s races. It seems so odd now that certain running magazine columnists ever gave argument as to why women did not deserve equal awards at races. (Believe it or not, he was serious.) It doesn’t seem reasonable that we had to go to court to gain the right to even run as far or ski jump as far as the men. . . . but that’s another entire blog story (elsewhere on this site).
And as far as Lauren Fleshman’s statement about supportive versus non-supportive parents of potentially athletic young girls . . . . I will assume she was speaking in generalities. I for one took up running and immersed myself in training in spite of my disapproving parent-guardians, and the rebelliousness of it all probably played a role in my decision. So that argument about the parents could go either way. In fact, in my job as a Coaching Education Director and as an Athletic Director, I’ve witnessed plenty of cases with negative experiences in sports for children of all-too-supportive parents (aka: helicopter parents hovering). But I digress. Let’s close optimistically with the increased and growing trend of women represented in sports. Perhaps women do hold up half-the-sky or as Sheryl Sandberg recommends, they are “Leaning In.” Simply put, as Deborah states, something is happening here.
Thank you to USATF Women’s Track and Field Committee, Sue Humphrey and LaTanya Shefield, for selecting me for this honored award. I am beyond disappointed that I could not personally be in Houston for the presentation, but I was there in spirit, and thankfully represented by Julie McKinney, former Women’s Long Distance Running Chair. I appreciate the vote of confidence in Peter Thompson’s nomination.
Here are my thoughts from home, from my heart:
I looked into the history of Joseph Robichaux and to prior recipients of the award to find an impressive line of men and women I am proud to keep in company.
I wondered if my work towards including more women’s events in the Olympic program was the reason I was chosen. If so, this award goes to a small committee, the IRC, (International Runners Committee) and not just me. You have my fellow member Nina Kuscsik with you as testament to our good work. Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The International Runners Committee, for whom I served as president, fought for the women’s 3000, 5000, 10,000-meter events on the track plus the marathon, until women gained equal opportunity in the Olympic Games.
Then, I soon realized it was the unique combination of also working in youth sports that put me in contention. I would have never expected to be given a reward for doing so. This caught me off guard completely.
Youth sports has been the pleasure and joy in my life, which I do not consider work, but the constant source of joy in my daily life — It always has been and continues to today . . . and for many tomorrows to come. I have coached K-12 children since my own child started school over 30 years ago, and I still coach today. I had the good fortune to work for LA84 Foundation, directing all sorts of youth sports programs in running and other sports too. I directed coaching education for LA84 in eight different sports.
Today I coach at running camps, I write curriculum for PE and Health Education courses at Loyola Marymount University to prepare teachers. I coach at World Record track and field camps with Willie Banks and Mike Powell. I coach at the Culver Academies Distance Camp annually for high school kids. I write online course curriculum for the RRCA coaching education program and I participate on their grants committee helping youth clubs. So, you see, there are a lot of folks doing good for youth sports in this world, and I am fortunate to still be actively involved, thanks to organizations like yours creating the opportunities for young people. Once in my young life, one single high school coach gave me a chance, and I am glad to give back. Indeed I am compelled to give back.
Let me remind you — thanks to finely organized women and girls track & field clubs in this country in the 60s and 70s, I had a place to compete when there were no opportunities in school, no interscholastic sports for girls. We were pre-Title IX and before NCAA. If not for one forward thinking woman, my high school PE teacher who started a girls track team, my life would be different. If not for one remarkable coach, Laszlo Tabori, an Olympian and record breaker, who gave me a direction in which to train after I finished school. . . if not for him, my life would not be so enriched. He made all things possible.
Thank you for the recognition, thank you for giving young people an opportunity and making a difference in their lives. It is my pleasure and honor to receive this award.
May good health be with all of us.
I was on a pre-race run a few days before marathon day, getting a tour of Eugene, Oregon on my first trip there. The town was mourning the death of Prefontaine, from his accident just five months earlier. I’ve never experienced anything like this before, an entire community mourning.
Eventually, the running conversation included the inevitable question: “So what sort of time are you aiming for?” Somehow it just rolled off my tongue, “six-minute miles,” I caught myself saying. That comment was met with dead silence, followed by hushed murmurs while doing the math. That must have sounded presumptuous!
On race day, it all came together. I chose Eugene, knowing that the course would be relatively flat, fast, cool, maybe drizzly, and most importantly, accurately measured. The NIKE-Oregon Track Club Marathon was run over what was to be the men’s 1976 Olympic Marathon Trials course the next year. It was a sort of dress rehearsal as it were. The race successfully met all of those predictions. Plus, I came into the race feeling good about my workouts. Even my coach, Laszlo Tabori, said at the close of that last interval workout the week before I departed, “you’re ready.” That comment came after my two 5-minute mile repeats I did in the middle of workout, and even though I questioned the connection, I trusted him to know these things. Joe Henderson printed that workout in his book “Road Racers and Their Training” —
Tuesday: 2 1/2 mile warm-up; 15 x 100 shakeups – 8 medium, 7 hard; 10 x 400 with 3 hard (73, 71, 72 seconds); 2 1/2 laps easy; 8 x 150 – 2 medium, 1 hard; 5 laps hard (5:13 mile); 2 laps easy; 5 laps hard (5:17 mile); 2 1/2 laps easy; 10 x 200 – 2 hard, 2 medium; 2 laps easy; 12 x 100 shakedowns – 2 medium, 1 hard.
Monday and Wednesday, I did my favorite workout: “25-lappers” on the track both mornings, plus an 8-mile run one evening and a 9-mile run the other. Thursday was a modified interval workout, easier than Tuesday’s because I had a race on Saturday. Friday was a brief pre-race run. Saturday I ran a 16:55 cross country 5K race. Sunday I did my last long run of 19 miles before departing for Eugene the next week. Those 25-lap workouts were the best! You could do them anywhere, anytime, without using a stopwatch. I ran a continuous 25 laps consisting of a 5-lap warm-up, then repeated sets of four laps per set: 2 x 100 medium, 2 x 150 build-up, 2 x 100 medium and 2 x 100 hard with an easy jog on the curves in between each.
My friends in Eugene, Janet and Tom Heinonen, arranged for my housing with the Ledbetter family. Young Lili Ledbetter was a local high school track star. We became good friends and her mom made the best ever zuchinni bread complete with homegrown filbert nuts. I jokingly say that my race was fueled on zucchini bread, I enjoyed it so much. Throughout the race, Janet and Lili could be found bicycling from station to station, either making sure my bottles of Gookinaid were waiting for me, or more so to check on my progress and splits.
I once said in a Sports Illustrated article that “there were days I could run forever. . . ” and gratefully, this was one of those days. To say it felt effortless sounds overly confident, but it was true. In review, my splits averaged 6:02 per mile, my slowest was 6:08 or :10, and my last 5 miles were at 5:55. I’ve said it before, I cannot do the math when I’m running tired, but that day when I heard my 20-mile split, I could do the math that told me I was ahead of pace, so I immediately picked up the pace and took off, leaving the group of male runners in my company. Looking back, a move like that with six miles to go could have ended badly, but that day it worked.
Look at the picture above, the one with only me in the frame – the one with my glassy-eyed look on my face and not smiling. A sport psychologist once showed me a group of racing photos and pointed out that he could predict the athlete who was going to run well — the one with glassy-eyed look, the one who is focused and able to shut out all distractions. That was me, definitely focused exactly in that way, on exactly the right day.
I approached the finish line in 11th place and someone yelled from the sidelines, “Catch one more guy! Top ten get watches!” But I knew I had something more valuable on the line. What I felt upon finishing, besides pure elation, was a sense of no time passing. Having experienced more than my share of surgeries over my career, I can tell you that it felt like I was coming out of a deep anesthesia slumber, wondering when the procedure was going to begin only to discover it was all over. It was that kind of sense of no time passing. Almost an out of body experience because simultaneously, I had the clear recollection of every mile run, every water station, every split, every inch of the course.
Thanks to my friend, photographer Doug Schwab, I have great photos and a great story written by my friend, Tim Wason. Thanks to Janet Heinonen, it was written up in the OTC newsletter, so the experience was well documented.
Often I wished I could bottle up and patent that formula which made for the “peak performance” and pull it out of my repertoire for every race. However, it was simply one of those marvelous times that I will always treasure, feeling fortunate to ever have such an experience.
Memories of the day, on the 40th Anniversary of my best WR, the first sub-2:40, officially 2:38:19.
Photos made possible thanks to Doug Schwab. Many thanks to Janet Heinonen for support and encouragement on that day and ever since. Thanks to Jon Anderson for the “then and now” photo. Special thanks to Bill Leung for all the photo editing. Thanks to all for our close friendships then, now, and forever more.
Thirty-one years ago in 1984, women runners had reason to celebrate our first-ever Olympic Marathon and, not to forget, a 3,000-meter race too. Up until this point, our longest allowable distance to run in the Olympic Games was merely 1500 meters, the metric mile, an event we only gained in 1972 at the Munich Olympics.
It was a bittersweet moment in ‘84, knowing full well that as thrilling as it was to witness our first Olympic Marathon women’s champion, Joan Benoit-Samuelson winning the first gold medal right here in LA, we knew we still had not obtained equality. Once the marathon was successfully lobbied into the Games, the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races were orphaned.
The International Runners Committee (IRC) was the group lobbying for all women’s distance events to go on the Olympic program. It was on their behalf that I personally met with the president and secretary of our governing federation, the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) imploring them to add the two events, only to be told (in short) that the two events were of no value to them, they were boring events that would not sell tickets at the gate, end of story as far as they were concerned.
There was an ensuing battle in the courts. The IRC brought an international class action lawsuit on behalf of over 70 women from nearly 30 countries, representing the best 5,000 and 10,000-meter runners in the world. We went through the courts, ending in appellate court, where an empathetic judge wrote these eloquent words as time ran out to resolve the matter of equality before the Olympic flame was lit in Los Angeles. Remember the Olympic torch was carried in 1984 by our own Southern California decathlete, Rafer Johnson. Harry Pregerson named Rafer in particular as his friend.
Here are the words proclaimed by Judge Harry Pregerson in 1984:
“The International Olympic Committee made concessions to the widespread popularity of women’s track and field by adding two distance races this year. The IOC refused however, to grant women athletics equal status by including all events in which women compete internationally. In so doing, the IOC postpones indefinitely the equality of athletic opportunity that it could easily achieve this year in Los Angeles.
When the Olympics move to other countries, some without America’s commitment to human rights, the opportunity to tip the scales of justice in favor of equality may slip away. Meanwhile the Olympic flame — which should be a symbol of harmony, equality and justice – will burn less brightly over the Los Angeles Olympic Games.”
I have written extensively on this matter, including my own memoir, “A Long Time Coming: Running through the women’s marathon revolution.” I specifically addressed this case in chapter 20, “Pressing our Case.”
Don’t ask me what has taken so long to interview the judge and write this story, but I have just spoken for the first time with the man who wrote those words in an eloquent dissent to the ruling that ended our appeal for equality in the Games in 1984. Judge Harry Pregerson will be 93-years of age next month and he is still active on the bench. What an extraordinary man, a true champion for justice.
I was pleased to report to him that although we may have lost that battle, we certainly won the war. I have no doubt in my mind that our actions resulted in adding the 10,000m and 5,000m races in subsequent Olympics. Not only that, our lawsuit served as a model for the women ski-jumpers, who brought a lawsuit of their own in 2010 (Vancouver Winter Games), resulting much the same way the women runners’ suit concluded, and their event was included in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Harry Pregerson was appointed to the “Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals” in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. He had been practicing law since the 1950s and then served as a judge in public courts since 1965. He remains active today and I remain astonished at that fact.
Here stands a former Marine First Lieutenant, a veteran of World War II, wounded in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The reason this even came up in our conversation – because he explained more than once why he continues to workout at the gym to keep his legs strong. His quadriceps muscles, in both legs, were severely damaged from gunshot wounds. It also explains his deep compassion for veterans’ rights and his support for the non-profit organization “US Vets.”
We talked at length about the LA Athletic Club (LAAC) where at one time he would workout daily, running a mile in the morning on their short indoor track and swim in their pool. However, all the time he was concerned about whether or not they practiced a policy of discrimination. He looked into it, and it bothered him that women and minorities did not have the same privileges or access to the facilities that other members did. Instead of quitting the gym, however, he told me he had a conversation with the owners. Eventually, policies were changed. This was not uncommon among private clubs across the nation.
In California, the Unruh Civil Rights Act originated in 1959, which guaranteed “all persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal; and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin, are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.” Any organization in the State is within the Unruh Act unless it is “truly private.”
The LAAC boasts in their background profile that women have been admitted to the Club since the 1920s. However they might have been allowed access, even to train there, they were not allowed membership before the 1960s. Even so, it was discovered when complaints were made in 1975 that the club admitted women and minorities in a slower and more regulated process, but at least the Club responded with positive action promptly.
The LAAC is credited with being the first club in LA not to discriminate long before required by law to do so. Other clubs weren’t so quick to change policies. As late as 1987, Mayor Tom Bradley signed a bill to ban discrimination at most of the city’s large private clubs. In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled that cities are allowed to force large private clubs to admit minorities and women.
Judge Pregerson explained to me his reason for the lengthy story of his experiences at LAAC. The owners, the Hathaway family, honored him at their annual awards ceremony one year, along with Peter Ueberroth and Buster Crab as his classmates. The Hathaways publicly acknowledged and thanked the Judge for “showing them the right way.”
Perhaps the Judge wisely anticipated my questions regarding our own lawsuit. Yes, we based ours on the Unruh Act. Yes, we drew the judge that indeed understood this civil rights act better than anyone. Yes, we drew a compassionate and empathetic audience – he was a champion for justice.
Our conversation began with Pregerson stating that while he might hear 300 to 400 cases a year, the Olympic case of 1984 is one you do not forget. He proceeded to explain jurisprudence to me, and why judges often act very cautiously, hesitant to “upset the apple cart.” This was evident in our case. I understood even at the time — who wanted to interfere with the Olympic Committee? He confided in me that another judge “liked what he did” but still “went with the IOC.”
I had so many questions for him, all these thirty-plus years later. As I reflect on our conversation and review court documents with our IRC newsletters (the International Runners Committee), I can read between the lines to see that he was providing me answers, indeed anticipating my questions.
The very Unruh Act he spoke of was the basis of our court case. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the US Olympic Committee (USOC) are not private clubs; they are business establishments, so the Unruh Act did apply to them. As Judge Pregerson wrote in his dissent in our case:
“I do not believe the California legislature intended an athletic contest such as the Olympics, which is a major public event, should be free under California law to discriminate openly against a class of participants on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin.”
Number one, I was perplexed at the majority opinion against our appeal, two-to-one, that first, the Olympic Committee could do what they wanted as a private club, and second, that the Unruh Civil Rights Act was deemed not applicable because it addressed “integration” not “segregation” that we women runners were accused of requesting. They used the word “apartheid-like.” I felt like Alice in Wonderland. As you read this, you are probably thinking the same thing I did. I agree with Pregerson’s response. He stated that the Olympic Committee deemed the events would be run as “separate but equal” (men’s and women’s), and it was not our idea.
The International Runners Committee published newsletters (thanks to writer-editors Joe Henderson and Janet Heinonen) documenting the years of lobbying efforts and the resulting court case. The papers have provided research for many scholars and reporters over the decades since. One woman in particular, Cecile Houry, wrote her dissertation resourcing our history, and mentioned: “the difficulties encountered to add these women’s distance events into the Olympic program, including having to form an organization to lobby the IOC and IAAF, having to prove that women could physically compete in such events and be having to go to court, highlight the rough situation sportswomen still faced as late as the 1980s.”
The IRC lawyer, Susan McGrievy from the ACLU, stated that this was true, “. . . until one generation of women said ‘enough, we deserve to be in the Olympics’.”
From some of the women plaintiffs –
Julie Brown said, “I’m obviously disappointed. I think that it’s something that was greatly needed. The decision is an injustice and needs to be changed.”
Kathy Hayes stated among other things . . . “It’s also ridiculous to say that track events have been added for women while none have been added for men. That’s because all the events are already being offered for men.”
Added Hayes, “It’s also obvious that the Olympic Committee uses its rules when it suits them and goes around them when they want. They win either way.”
I stated at the time: “I will always be angered that the integrity of the process was more important than the athletes. This means the world will miss seeing a number of very talented women in the ’84 Olympics. They didn’t ask Frank Shorter to wait another four years.”
The marathon was a long time coming like I titled my book. Fortunately, the wait for the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races wasn’t as long, as I explained here earlier. The fact that we lost a battle, won the war, and served as a model for the women ski-jumpers, well, their wait was not as long either, as their event went in at 2014. All the waiting and the battling were worth it in the end.
Waiting to speak with the Judge was worthwhile too. At least he has remained active and easy to find, so I could tell him of the effects and consequences of our actions, all these years later, and thank him for his role. Our true champion for justice.
Additional notes: Ironically, I ended up working for the Amateur Athletic Foundation, which grew out of the 1984 LA Olympic Games, and is now called LA84 Foundation. Rafer Johnson is a highly active Board member there. Rafer and I happened to be honored at the same awards ceremony by the ACLU in the summer of 1984. Rafer is also the founder of the Southern California Special Olympics, where we intersected at this year’s Special Olympics 2015 World Games here in LA, and where he symbolically and appropriately enough lit the Olympic Torch once again.