chapter  4
Going the Distance: The Road to the 1984 Olympic Women’s Marathon
ByJaime Schultz
Pages 17

Going the Distance: The Road to the 1984 Olympic Women’s Marathon Jaime Schultz* Departments of Kinesiology & Women’s Studies, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA

The 1984 Los Angeles Games hosted, for the first time in Olympic history, a women’s marathon race. It took the efforts of several important factions to accomplish the event. First, women runners demonstrated that they were capable of running great distances in increasingly faster times. Second, the popular media publicised those performances, often mitigating athletic commentary with observations about the runners’ femininity, attractiveness and relationships with men. Finally, commercial sponsors joined the ranks in this marathon battle to finance important events, running circuits and advocacy groups while simultaneously promoting their own brands of commodity feminism. In the end, it took the coming together of the physical activists, media advocates and corporate champions to accomplish this milestone in sport history. Keywords: marathon; women’s sports; Olympic Games; distance running; 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games

Forty-nine women representing 28 different countries took the starting line at the Santa Monica City College track. Working to keep their adrenaline in check, they waited for the 8 am starter’s pistol to begin their 26.2-mile race down along the Pacific Coast of California, past the seaside communities of Venice and Marina Del Rey, then inland through downtown Los Angeles and, finally, to the finish line at LA’s Memorial Coliseum. It was 1984 and, for the first time, the women’s marathon was on the Olympic docket. Acting as event commentator for ABC television, Kathrine Switzer, a long-time advocate of women’s distance running, counselled viewers: ‘you’re not just watching a race, you’re also watching a social and cultural revolution’.1