The Fight to Establish the Women's Race
By the 1970s, the Olympic Marathon had come a long way from the dusty roads of Athens. Yet women were still not allowed to compete and the struggle to establish a women's Olympic Marathon was itself something of a long-distance race.
Before the 1980s, there were no women's distance races in the Olympics. In the Moscow Games, the longest race for women was the 1,500 meters, which had been instituted in 1972, Women had been excluded from track and field competition altogether until 1928, when the longest race was the 800 meters. Despite a world record by winner Lina Radke of Germany, many of the competitors had not properly prepared for the race and several collapsed in exhaustion. This led Olympic organizers to consider the race too strenuous for women. The president of the IOC, Count Henri Baillet- Latour, even suggested the elimination of all women's competition from the Games. Such a drastic move was not taken, but until 1960, when the 800 meters reappeared, no race of over 200 meters was contested by women in the Olympics.
This is not to say there was no tradition of women's long-distance running. Women had been forbidden from participating in the ancient Olympics. A woman who was caught even as a spectator at the Games could face execution. But women in ancient Greece held their own festival to honor the goddess Hera every five years. Only one athletic event was held--a short footrace.