Updated at 12:17 p.m. (Filed at 7:45 a.m.)
Grete Waitz, nine-time winner of the New York City Marathon, has died of cancer at the age of 57.
Waitz, originally a teacher in Norway, came to the marathon after appearances in other events in the Olympics. She competed in the 1,500 meters in Munich in 1972, but was eliminated in the first round. She set a world record in the 3,000 in 1975, but did not qualify for the 1,500 final in the Montreal Olympics in ’76. In 1980, Norway joined the boycott of the Moscow Games after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
Fred Lebow, founder of the NYC Marathon, invited Waitz to the race in 1978 as a “rabbit,” a pace-setter for established marathoners. Some rabbit. She won the race, her first marathon, with a world record time of 2 hours, 32 minutes and 30 seconds.
“I was hurting. I was mad. I was angry. I told [her husband] Jack: ‘Never again,’ ” Waitz said in 2008.
She won the NYC race eight more times and set three world records. In fact, she was such a significant figure in the New York City race that, in 2008, each finisher was given a medal bearing her likeness and the words “Grete Waitz - The Greatest Champion in New York City Marathon History.”
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“We’ve come a long way in a very short time,” Waitz said in a 2008 New York Road Runners interview. “When I got a little older, I wasn’t encouraged to do sports — it wasn’t what girls should be doing. Even in the media, women didn’t get the same attention. We had to be twice as good. I had to set world records to get noticed.”
Waitz’s last NYC victory came in 1988, four years after she finished second to Joan Benoit (Samuelson) in the Los Angeles Olymic Games. “She was the queen of Norway and the queen of hearts in sports,” Samuelson told Reuters. Waits was godmother for Samuelson’s son in a Norwegian christening ceremony. “I will always remember her graciousness, goodwill and as a competitor. It is a huge loss.”
Waitz was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and, during her treatment, her husband told the New York Daily News’ Wayne Coffey that she never gave in to self-pity: “If you give up, you lose — that's always been her statement.”
Jack Waitz confirmed that she died Tuesday in Oslo.
“The women's running revolution, the biggest sea change in our sport in 30 years, began in Norway, where a young track star, Grete Waitz, broke boundaries as well as records,” Amby Burfoot, 1968 Boston Marathon winner, wrote in Runner’s World in 2004 (via NPR). “In 1972, at the Munich Olympics, she ran the 1,500 meters, the first time women were allowed to participate in the event. She went on to win the New York City Marathon an almost-inconceivable nine times, a feat achieved by no other runner (male or female), and set three world records.”
Photo gallery: Grete Waitz through the yearsTweet
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