lifted the solid gold medal that an hour earlier had been hung about her neck
for winning the first Avon International Women's Marathon in Atlanta. "I
saw no golden apples today," she said, smiling. Cooksey was referring to
the legend of Atalanta, the distance runner whose likeness was on the medal.
For those whose mythology was cloudy, Kathrine Switzer—an organizer of the Avon
race and something of a legend herself for breaking the men-only barrier at the
Boston Marathon 11 years ago—thoughtfully had sketched out the story.
very beautiful, she was very intelligent, she was very independent,"
Switzer said pointedly to the contestants on Saturday. "And she could
outrun all the men in her country. She ran only for high stakes. If she raced a
man and won, he would be put to death. If she lost, she would have to marry
him. The first eight men died." Here there were rustles of approval.
"Finally a determined pursuer dropped three golden apples in a race and
when she stopped to pick them up, he ran past to win. Their children..."
Switzer paused a moment, "were all monsters.
moral," she went on, "is to be wary of those who would defeat you with
deceit and distractions, for the results are truly monstrous."
and allegorical words were directed at the International Olympic Committee, for
in addition to convening in Atlanta to settle on a world champion, the globe's
best female marathoners had come to settle a point. They wanted a women's
Olympic marathon, and they were weary of the dissembling of the IOC and the
International Amateur Athletic Federation—running's governing body, which must
endorse their cause before the IOC will seriously consider it. The IOC and IAAF
continue to voice patronizing concern for the health and femininity of women
runners and have shown it by allowing them to compete in nothing longer than
the 1,500 in the Olympics.
To state the
women's case, Avon had flown in Dr. Ernst van Aaken of West Germany, a research
physiologist, coach of Olympians and father of women's distance running. Van
Aaken, 68, was a 10-mile-per-day runner until one wintry night in 1972 when a
truck hurtled into him on a snowy side street. He lost both legs. Van Aaken
used some of the insurance money to organize the first women's international
marathons in his hometown of Waldniel in 1974 and 1976. Those races and his
research have made him a passionate and beloved advocate. "These women are
so beautiful because they run," he said, touched, as the runners gave him a
standing ovation when he was wheeled into a prerace symposium where he would
help state the women's cause. "It is a shame that officials are put in
judgment of things they know nothing about. In 1970 the world record was 3:07.
Now it is 2:34:48, by Christa Vahlensieck [whom he trains]. Yet women were
forbidden to run even 3,000 meters in Montreal. Why go on with this
the IAAF representative in Atlanta observing the Avon race, has been a
sympathetic listener for years. Scandurra looks and sounds startlingly like
Henry Kissinger, and he thinks like him, too. "I'm a realist," he said.
"I think you have to go step by step." By that he means forming an
international union of women road runners and hoping the IAAF will be impressed
into taking over. "That's exactly what the International Cross-Country
Union did," Scandurra said, "although I admit it took them 50
years." Scandurra pointed out that to get justice the women had to await
social change on an international scale. "The Moroccans voted against
longer races because they said women running distance is blasphemous, it ruins
settle that one years ago?" asked one runner. Scandurra's answer was that
we did in the U.S. and a few other countries, but the voting blocs of Africa
and the Latin and Arab countries have yet to be convinced. "The feeling is
not enough countries are interested," said Scandurra.
vicious circle," said Leal Ann Reinhart, the current AAU marathon champion
from the San Fernando Valley Track Club. "The countries with creepy
hang-ups don't let women run...so there is no interest...so they don't let
a tough, windblown beauty from Budapest, was testimony to that. The Hungarian
Athletic Federation had refused her a visa to Atlanta even though she has run
2:48:53 in a Budapest marathon. She cadged permission from orienteering
officials instead (she was the 1972 world champion). When her ploy was
discovered, Monspart was told she would have to finish in the first six or she
would never get another visa.
Solidarity was the
key to assembling the finest field of women ever. Fourteen of the 24 fastest
women marathoners in history were among the 186 runners from eight countries
who went to the line at 1:00 p.m. Sunday. Absent were Vahlensieck, who had to
run in the world cross-country championships at Glasgow, and Chantal Langlace
of France, who once held the world record (2:35:13), but who had ruptured an
Achilles tendon. American record holder Kim Merritt and the Boston and New York
Marathon champion Miki Gorman had been reluctant to compete, but showed.
"I'm peaking for Boston," Gorman told Switzer. "Change your
peak," Switzer replied.