37 YEARS AGO! When Women were not Allowed to Run Marathon Distance in Olympics

37 YEARS AGO! When Women were not Allowed to Run Marathon Distance in Olympics
Photo by Holger Grünwald from Burst
Gulsum Ozturk Rustemoglu
Feb 22, 2021

During this day and age, it’s often easy to take some liberties for granted. We are used to having it that we have never realized how difficult life is without it. Take the freedom to run for example. People nowadays, especially women, can just decide to run right then and there. No one will scold or reprimand them for joining prestigious marathon events nor do you find any events discriminating against women from joining. But that wasn’t always the case. We owe it to the amazing women who came before us to fight the battles we didn’t have to.

Ever since ancient times, sports events such as the Olympic Games, have been male-dominated. Women were not allowed to participate in such events, sometimes even watching these games was forbidden and someone could be stoned to death just by doing so.

In the much more modern reiteration of the games, women still had limited participation. In 1896, women were still not allowed to join track and field events. However, this didn’t stop Stamata Revithi from trying out the marathon course for herself. It was a subtle protest at the unfair restrictions during that time.

After three decades, in 1926, the world witnessed the first woman to ever run in a marathon recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federation. In this event, Violet Piercy proved that the fairer sex can keep up with their male counterparts and finished the course in 3:40:22.

In 1928, the Olympic Committee opened five track and field events for women. However, due to some erroneous reports that a lot of women were collapsing when running over 800M. , the IOC restricted women from running more than 200M. This decision was overturned after more than three decades. In 1960, at the Rome Olympics, women were now allowed to compete in the 800M. category.


Due to the bold spirit of several women runners, some male-dominated marathon and running events eventually opened their doors for women to participate. In 1967, we saw Kathrine Switzer as the first woman to join the Boston Marathon officially. Now, with her Fearless 261, she is moving the world! In 1972, six women were allowed to join the New York City marathon after protesting. When it comes to the Olympics, the very first Women's Marathon was at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California. The 50 competitors came from 28 countries, 44 finished the race. Can you really imagine this race was only 37 years ago?

Even though women started the game way behind, one cool scientific finding is that in longer ultramarathons distances, not only are women able to compete with men but in fact, they’re beating them. That’s a huge win considering that women were only allowed to participate in such events just 37 years ago. The rest, they say, is history.

Whatever the case may be, we can only honor the sacrifices that the women before us made to make our lives easier now. Every run you compete in is a celebration of these women and a step in the development of distance running.
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1 comment

  • Jim Van Buskirk

    The announcers at the 1984 womens marathon were positive that Joan Benoit’s pace was too fast. “Big mistake” They stopped harping on this somewhere in the 15 mile range.

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