The Historic Series on Olympic Running (X): Women’s Marathon
Bronze medal for Kathrin Dörre, as well as a fourth and fifth place finish
2004-08-14Today, Friday, August 13th, the Olympic Games are beginning in Athens.
The women’s marathon will take place on Sunday, August 22nd and the men’s marathon will be on August 29th.
The classical course from Marathon to Athens has already been presented here at:
(only in german language)
The favourites for the women’s marathon have also been
All that is left is the presentation of the favourites for the men’s
marathon, and then all of the favourites for gold in the running disciplines
–starting at 800m—will have been discussed here on the
Many things are sure to end up much differently then expected—the demise of the favourites has already begun before the first starting shot has fallen — see the favourite for the 1500m, Süreyya Ayhan:
In this next-to-last article in the Olympic historical running series, we
will look at the German participants in the women’s marathon race. Women
have only been allowed to participate in the marathon at the Olympic Games for
the past 20 years.
Here as well, despite its relatively short history, the memories are to be kept alive out of respect for the great achievements in the longest running discipline, and are to serve as an inspiration for imitation for our athletes today.
The women’s marathon was introduced in 1984 at the Olympic
Games in Los Angeles 1984.
While the men have been competing in the marathon since the beginning of the modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens, the women’s marathon was only introduced in 1984 in Los Angeles. By the way, a woman named Melpomene supposedly ran the course in Athens in 1896. She did a practice race on the marathon course, taking a break at the halfway point to refresh with oranges, and then finished in a time of 4 and half hours.
After the Greek Spyridon Louis won the gold in the marathon in 1896,
Stamatia Rovithi was so thrilled with the victory of her fellow countryman that
she wanted to emulate him.
Gertrud Pfister writes: “The 35-year-old mother of 7 children finished the course in 5 ½ hours. She said herself that she would have been faster had she not stopped to window shop on the way.“
Gertrud Pfister continued in her article “Why are women underrepresented in the running movement“ in the collection of essays called “The Running Movement in Germany — an interdisciplinary approach“ (Dieter H. Jütting; ed.) that in the Greek mythology women were attributed with excellent running qualities.
The most famous runner in the world of the gods and heroes was Atalante. She was abandoned by her parents and developed into a clever hunter who had many heroic adventures. Whatever man wanted to win her hand had to race against her “for his life“. According to Pfister, there had been races since 600 B.C for women and girls in honour of the Greek goddess Hera, and in Sparta running was part of the physical education for girls.
It is thus even less understandable that running, at least in competition
and championships, has been withheld from women for so long by the men and
The first women’s marathon in Germany was organized by Dr. Ernst van
Aaken on October 28, 1973 in Waldniel. Christa Kofferschläger won in
2:59:25.6 – which was the European record.
On February 10, 1974, Judy Ikenberry won the first marathon for women in the USA in 2:55:18 in San Mateo.
The women’s path to running the marathon was long and stony. Kathrine
Switzer had her greatest moment on April 19, 1967, when she entered the famous
Boston Marathon under the name of K.V. Switzer. She ran unnoticed with an
official race number until Jock Semple, an official, recognized her and tried
to pull her out. Semple was out of luck, however. Her running companion, Tom
Miller, was a hammer thrower who took on the official and boxed him out of the
way. Kathrine Switzer ran in about 4:20 to the finish and made the headlines
and photo captions around the world.
A year earlier in 1966, Roberta Gibb ran without a race number in Boston, mixing in with the male runners and finishing in about 3:30. She and Kathrine Switzer belong to the group of resolute women who helped further women’s running.
As an AVON representative in New York, she also played a considerable role
in getting the 1st AVON Women’s Run started in Berlin in 1984 by SCC
At the 1st BERLIN MARATHON in 1974, Jutta von Haase, one of 9 female runners
in the total field of 286 participants, won the premiere in 3:22:01. In 1977,
Christa Vahlensieck ran a new world record of 2:34.48 at the 4th BERLIN
MARATHON as part of the German Championships.
The first European Championships for the women’s marathon took place
in Athens in 1982, and the first world championships took place in 1983 in
Helsinki. Finally in 1984, women were allowed to participate in the marathon at
the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
They are followed by Russia/GUS with one silver and one gold, and then by
Portugal with one gold and one bronze medal.
11 countries share the 15 medals.
The bright light of the German marathon runners is Kathrin
Dörre. She participated in three Olympic Games and placed each
time: in 1988 in Seoual she got bronze, in 1992 in Barcelona she placed fifth,
and in 1996 in Atlanta she came in fourth. That is a success series to be proud
Overview of the distribution of medals of the most successful
countries in the women’s marathon:
Germany: 0 Gold / 0 Silver / 1 x Bronze / 1 x 4th place / 1 x 5th
place / 1 x 8th place
JPN: 1 G / 1 S / 1 B
URS: 1 G / 1 S
POR: 1 G / 0 S / 1 B
USA: 1 G
ETH: 1 G
NOR: 0 G / 1 S
AUS: 0 G / 1 S
ROM: 0 G / 1 S
NZE: 0 G / 0 S / 1 B
KEN: 0 G / 0 S / 1 B
Los Angeles 1984 – First gold for Benoit – Charlotte
Joan Benoit (USA) left her top-calibre competitors behind her at 4
kilometres. Benoit had won the US Trials and held the top notch in the world
rankings. The 27-year old American continued her lonely race to the finish. On
this Sunday morning in the coliseum in Los Angeles the crowd was of course wild
when their hometown girl entered the stadium. She left the world champion from
1983, Grete Waitz, as well as the European champion from 1982, Rosa Mota,
behind her, and Inge Kristiansen came in fourth.
Charlotte Teske, the star of the German long distance runners, had suffered problems with her sciatica – and thus a lack of training. She started out in the front, but then fell back.
Although the temperature at the 8 a.m. start was still comfortable, it soon rose, turning it into a battle in the heat.
The images of the Swiss runner Gabriela Anderson-Schiess, who stumbled along the last 500m through the stadium refusing all help, are still negatively present for many.
Finals (August 5)
1. Joan Benoit (USA) 2:24:52 – 2. Grete Waitz (NOR) 2:26:18 – 3. Rosa Mota (POR) 2:26:57 - 4. Ingrid Kristiansen (NOR) 2 :27:34 - ... ... 16. Charlotte Teske 2:35:56
Seoul 1988 – Kathrin Doerre wins the bronze
At the 38 km mark, Rosa Mota, who was third in Los Angeles, took the
offensive and probably decided the victory when she got away from Lisa Martin
and Kathrin Doerre, with whom she had been running. Grete Waitz, silver
medallist from Los Angeles and long-time holder of the top world ranking, was
still at the lead at 15 kilometres, but she later dropped out. Katrin Doerre
was one of the favourites and was expected to be at the front. She fulfilled
these hopes and took home the first medal for a German female marathon
Kerstin Preßler from Berlin (winner of the BERLIN MARATHON in 1987 in 2:31:22) came in 21st in 2:34:26, and Gabriele Wolf was not far behind in 27th place in 2:35:11.
Charlotte Teske, 1986 winner of the BERLIN MARATHON in 2:32:10, decided not to start as she had suffered a severe cold shortly beforehand. Birgit Stephan also did not start.
Finals (September 23):
1. Rosa Mota (POR) 2:25:40 – 2. Lisa Martin (AUS) 2:25:53 – 3. Katrin Dörre 2:26:21 - ... ... 21. Kerstin Preßler 2:34:26 - ... ... 27. Gabriele Wolf 2:35:11
Barcelona 1992 – Kathrin Doerre fifth
It was a dramatic battle in the heat in Barcelona.
“Leichtathletik“ wrote : “there was no winner and no losers,
just survivors.“ Wanda Panfil, the Polish world champion from the
previous year in Tokyo only came in 23rd. The fifth place finish by Kathrin
Doerre should be held ever so much more in esteem.
The Japanese showed their abilities for the first time and with Yuki Arimori took second place behind the Russian, Jegorowa, who was only able to finally put Arimori behind her once they reached the stadium. Sachiko Yamashita (JPN), the second woman from Japan, came in 4th.
Birgit Jerschabek ran a good race, coming in 15th in 2:42:45. She gave
everything and had to be taken care of by the medical staff after crossing the
Finals (August 1):
1. Valentina Jegorowa (GUS) 2:32:41 – 2. Yuko Arimori (JPN) 2:32:49,3
– 3. Lorraine Mary Moller (NZL) 2:33:59,4 – 4. Sachiko Yamashita
(JPN) 236:26,5 – 5. Kathrin Doerre 2:36:48,6 - ... ... 15. Birgit
Atlanta 1996 – Kathrin Doerre-Heinig fourth – Sonja
The first female runner from Africa to win the Olympic gold in the
marathon was Fatuma Roba from Ethiopia, following in the footsteps of the
legendary Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, who won in Rome in 1960 and in Tokyo in 1964.
She won easily ahead of the winner in Barcelona Jegorowa and silver medallist
in Barcelona Yuko Arimori.
Kathrin Doerre-Heinig, who won the BERLIN MARATHON in 1994 in 2:25:15, was
the image of dependability and just missed bronze in 4th place. Sonja Krolik
came in from behind and finished in a respectable 8th place in
Uta Pippig (SCC Berlin), who as the multiple winner of the famous Boston and
Berlin Marathons, was considered to be a favourite. She started off in the
lead, but then, to everyone’s disappointment, dropped out.
1. Fatuma Roba (ETH) 2:26:05 – 2. Valentina Jegorowa (RUS) 2:28:05 – 3. Yuko Arimori (JPN) 2:28:39 – 4. Kathrin Doerre-Heinig 2:28:45 - ... ... 8. Sonja Krolik 2:31:16
Sydney 2000 – Victory for Naoko Takahashi – Japan
The first marathon gold for the Japanese women — and Japan
celebrated and idolised the petite winner, Naoko Takahashi. It was a close
victory for Takahashi, with just an 8-second lead ahead of the Romanian Lidia
Simon, who was 6th four years earlier in Atlanta.
Joyce Chepchumba from Kenya, who won the London Marathon in 1997 and the
BERLIN HALF MARATHON in 1999 and 2000, took home the bronze medal.
Takahashi gained unexpected popularity in marathon-crazed Japan with her victory in Sydney and her world record a year later in Berlin.
Sonja Krolik came in 24th in Sydney in 2:33:45 – Claudia Dreher did not compete.
1. Naoko Takahashi (JPN) 2:23:14 – 2. Lidia Simon (ROM) 2:23:22 – 3. Joyce Chepchumba (KEN) 2:24:45 - ... ... 24. Sonja Oberon 2:33:45
Unlike that of the men, the Olympic history of the women’s marathon is
still quite short. It makes an international, as well as national, comparison
difficult. The women have much to catch up on, but they are on the best
According to data from the USA, they are on their way to surpassing men in the numbers participating in marathons. It was a long way travelled, from the young Atalante, via Melpomene to Kathrin Switzer and finally to the Games in Los Angeles in 1984.
They are improving faster, too, as is shown in the development of the
women’s world record from 3:40:22 by Violet Percy (GBR) in London on
October 3, 1926 to the breaking of the sound barrier by Naoko Takahashi (JPN)
in 2:19:46 in Berlin on September 30, 2001 and to the new phenomenal time of
2:15:25 by Paula Radcliffe (GBR) in London on April 13, 2003.
The women’s marathon will storm on. In the future, the German women
will not have an easy job getting to the top, or even close, as is the case for
all of the other running events.
One must note critically that the two-time Marathon-Athens winner
Sonja Krolik, as experienced as she is in the heat and competition, was not
nominated by the German Olympic Committee (NOC). That will sink the
Germany’s chances of reaching a good ranking to a minimum.
But the Olympic uncertainty leaves a hope for the future – and thus a chance for the surprises that sport always has to offer.
Interesting tips and supplementary information on the great Olympic history
of the addressed topics may be sent to:
Women’s 800m (Historic Olympic Series I):
Men’s 1500m (Historic Olympic Series II:)
Men’s 800m (Historic Olympic Series III):
Women’s 1500m (Historic Olympic Series IV):
Women’s 5000m (Historic Olympic Series V):
Mens 5000m (Historic Olympic Series VI):
Womens 10.000m (Historic Olympic Series VII):
Mens 10.000m (Historic Olympic Series VIII):
Mens 3000m steeplechase (Historic Olympic Series IX):
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