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Apr 22 2014

“Get the hell out of my race”

A story told by “A Mighty Girl” (which is a group) on the eponymous Facebook page.

In celebration of today’s Boston Marathon, we’re sharing the dramatic story of the first woman to officially run the historic race. Kathrine Switzer’s experience is a revealing illustration of the barriers that trailblazing women athletes had to overcome and of how far girls and women in sports have come in only a few decades.

In 1967, Switzer was a 20-year-old college student at Syracuse University when she registered for the race using her initials, K.V. Switzer. Not realizing that she was a woman, who were barred from participating in the Boston Marathon for over 70 years, race officials issued her an entry number.

During the race, marathon official Jock Semple attempted to physically remove Switzer from the marathon after discovering she was female. Other runners, including Switzer’s boyfriend Tom Miller, blocked Semple and she was able to complete the marathon. Pictures of the incident and the story of Switzer’s participation in the marathon made global headlines.

Photo: In celebration of today's Boston Marathon, we're sharing the dramatic story of the first woman to officially run the historic race. Kathrine Switzer's experience is a revealing illustration of the barriers that trailblazing women athletes had to overcome and of how far girls and women in sports have come in only a few decades. </p>
<p>In 1967, Switzer was a 20-year-old college student at Syracuse University when she registered for the race using her initials, K.V. Switzer. Not realizing that she was a woman, who were barred from participating in the Boston Marathon for over 70 years, race officials issued her an entry number.</p>
<p>During the race, marathon official Jock Semple attempted to physically remove Switzer from the marathon after discovering she was female. Other runners, including Switzer’s boyfriend Tom Miller, blocked Semple and she was able to complete the marathon. Pictures of the incident and the story of Switzer’s participation in the marathon made global headlines.</p>
<p>After the marathon, Switzer became deeply engaged in efforts to increase girls’ and women’s access to sports and she and other women runners finally convinced the Boston Athletic Association to drop their discriminatory policies and allow women to participate in 1972. By 2011, nearly 43 percent of Boston Marathon entrants were female. Switzer also helped lead the drive for the inclusion of a women’s marathon in the Olympic Games -- a victory which was achieved at long last with the first women's marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.</p>
<p>To read more about Kathrine Switzer's inspirational story, we recommend her autobiography, "Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women's Sports," which you can find at http://amzn.to/1o1607x</p>
<p>To watch a wonderful short Makers interview with Switzer about her experiences breaking barriers in women’s sports, visit http://bit.ly/1jj4pJX</p>
<p>For an excellent resource for teaching tweens and teens about the history of Title IX -- the landmark 1972 U.S. civil rights legislation which opened up many athletic opportunities for girls by prohibiting gender discrimination in educational activities --we highly recommend "Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX: The Law That Changed the Future of Girls in America" for ages 11 and up at http://www.amightygirl.com/let-me-play</p>
<p>To inspire your children with the stories of more female sports trailblazers, visit our “Sports / Games” section at http://www.amightygirl.com/books/general-interest/sports-games</p>
<p>For more stories of both real-life and fictional girls and women confronting sexism and prejudice in a multitude of forms, visit our "Gender Discrimination" section at http://www.amightygirl.com/books/social-issues/prejudice-discrimination?cat=69</p>
<p>And, if your Mighty Girl loves sports, check out our collection of girl-empowering t-shirts and select 'sports' from the left menu at http://www.amightygirl.com/clothing

After the marathon, Switzer became deeply engaged in efforts to increase girls’ and women’s access to sports and she and other women runners finally convinced the Boston Athletic Association to drop their discriminatory policies and allow women to participate in 1972. By 2011, nearly 43 percent of Boston Marathon entrants were female. Switzer also helped lead the drive for the inclusion of a women’s marathon in the Olympic Games — a victory which was achieved at long last with the first women’s marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

It seems so outlandish now. It’s not a contact sport, there’s plenty of oxygen for all; why on earth were women kept out?

27 comments

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  1. 1
    jenBPhillips

    Yes, it’s odd, isn’t it. Here’s more:
    “In 1966, Roberta Gibb hid behind a bush at the start of the Boston Marathon, sneaking into the field and finishing the race in an unofficial time of 3:21:25. She was the first woman known to complete the arduous Boston course. Gibb had been inspired to run by the return of her race entry with a note saying that women were not physically capable of running a marathon.

    “I hadn’t intended to make a feminist statement,” said Gibb. “I was running against the distance [not the men] and I was measuring myself with my own potential.”

    The following year, number 261 in the Boston Marathon was assigned to entrant K.V. Switzer. In lieu of the pre-race medical examination, Switzer’s coach took a health certificate to race officials and picked up the number. Not until two miles into the race did officials realize that Switzer was a woman, twenty-year-old Kathrine Switzer of Syracuse University. Race director Will Cloney and official Jock Semple tried to grab Switzer and remove her from the race, or at least remove her number, but her teammates from Syracuse fended them off with body blocks. Switzer eventually finished the race after the race timers had stopped running, in 4:20. Switzer had not used her initials on the entry form to deceive the race officials. She was merely a fan of J.D. Salinger and liked the sound of her initials. While Switzer was creating a stir with her unauthorized entry, Roberta Gibb again ran the race, this time being forced off the course just steps from the finish line, where her time would have been 3:27:17.” (my bold)

  2. 2
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    Well, you know… . It’s more of a ‘guy’ thing, innit? Running? Women aren’t really interested in it.

  3. 3
    moarscienceplz

    It seems a pretty safe bet that Mr. Semple is dead now. It’s incidents like these that make me really wish an afterlife existed. I would love to think of him, and the Alabamians who spit on little black kids trying to walk to school, and others of that ilk, spending eternity shamefacedly apologizing for their actions.

  4. 4
    jenBPhillips

    http://www.marathonguide.com/history/olympicmarathons/chapter25.cfm

    Here’s the source for the above quote. The ‘women aren’t physically capable’ argument just stinks to high heaven, too, doesn’t it? Female athletes are not unicorns–even before there were organized sports for women, women still did physical things. It seems like more of an insult to the mental capacity of women than to their physical abilities–as if women on the whole would be far too stupid to be able to judge whether they were capable of running a marathon. If it were open to women, some unqualified people might just sign up, pass out at mile 8, and clog up the course. Sigh.

  5. 5
    John Duffy

    the BBC is the glory of Britain.

    Readers may like to access a recent BBC piece regarding this story, which was broadcast last week.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01x9y24

    John Duffy.

  6. 6
    leni

    Lol Semple’s constipation face in that picture is priceless, thanks for sharing that Ophelia! That is a national treasure indeed.

    And that was a lot of fun backstory jenBphillips, thanks also :)

  7. 7
    leni

    It’s actually like he’s crying and constipated, I can’t stop laughing at it. Oh god I’m probably making the same face now XD

  8. 8
    jenBPhillips

    He’s probably vexed because he couldn’t OUTRUN her. ;P

  9. 9
    Seth

    Am I the only one who’s grocking the seemingly world-historical irony of a regressive sports official being named Jock Semple? (Say that last name out loud. ;)

    Also, it’s good to see there were at least a few men back then who were willing to stand up for what was right.

  10. 10
    leni

    Seth:

    Say that last name out loud.

    Semple….Semple… I’m not hearing it?

    But yeah, best cockblock ever lol.

    ***

    jenBPhillips

    He’s probably vexed because he couldn’t OUTRUN her. ;P

    Whatever it is, it’s very amusing! Probably the MRAs would spin that as something like “Man with no training and dress shoes would have caught feral female Boston Marathoner if not for pussy-whipped white knights.”

  11. 11
    A. Noyd

    Semple looks a lot like John Lithgow there.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~

    leni (#10)

    Semple….Semple… I’m not hearing it?

    Simple. As in, not too bright.

  12. 12
    Blanche Quizno

    “why on earth were women kept out?”

    Because boobs.

  13. 13
    leni

    Simple. As in, not too bright.

    Lol ok I walked right into that one, but in my defense I was expecting there to be Semper Fi or something. I just wan’t feeling it ><!

  14. 14
  15. 15
    jaggington

    British Pathé has a clip at Annual Boston Marathon (1967) which includes a shot of Kathrine Switzer, although there’s no sound.

  16. 16
    jaggington

    Actually, there’s plenty more interesting clips if you just search for Boston Marathon 1967 at YouTube.

  17. 17
    =8)-DX

    “why on earth were women kept out?”

    Because boobs.

    The corrolary to boobs is always boner.

    The men were all afraid those jugly ladyparts would cause erections, thereby making races a total farce and retrospectively scandalising all the women.

  18. 18
    Matt Penfold

    “It seems a pretty safe bet that Mr. Semple is dead now. It’s incidents like these that make me really wish an afterlife existed. I would love to think of him, and the Alabamians who spit on little black kids trying to walk to school, and others of that ilk, spending eternity shamefacedly apologizing for their actions.”

    Semple actually changed his position before he died, and became a strong advocate for the participation of women in athletics.

  19. 19
    chrisho-stuart

    I’m just glad there’s life; and that people may learn and change in the time they have available to do so.

    Here’s another picture for you, showing Jock Semple and Katherine Switzer together with a mutual hug at the start of the 1973 Boston marathon. By this time, women were permitted, and Jock had reversed his position on the matter. Well done to both Jock and Katherine.

    http://www.corbisimages.com/stock-photo/rights-managed/U1770509/jock-semple-and-katherine-switzer

  20. 20
    leftwingfox

    Last year, Meredith Fitzmaurice was planing on running the half-marathon in Amherstburg, Ontario, but wound up on the track for the full Marathon instead.

    Which she then won. :)

    http://www.cbc.ca/asithappens/features/2013/09/25/woman-enters-half-marathon-ends-up-winning-full-by-mistake/

    I’m just glad there’s life; and that people may learn and change in the time they have available to do so.

    Yes!

  21. 21
    left0ver1under

    It’s the same as the idiots who run ski jumping. Women were barred from olympics jumping until this year (but only one event) and the FIS wouldn’t organize a women’s world championship because the FIS was “concerned it would damage their ability to have babies”. That’s paraphrased, but it was their actual argument.

    More likely, they were concerned that women were going to beat the men because women of the same height and weight as men will be stronger. On the same hill in 2014, the women’s distances were equal to the men’s. The women’s gold and silver medallists jumped further than all the men except the gold medal winner.

    Back to running, it was the same excuse used to bar women from the marathon in the olympics, that women were “too fragile”. Some tried to use Gabriela Andersen’s finish in 1984 as an excuse to eliminate the women’s marathon after it was just put in just that year. Her staggering finish was the exception, but was portrayed as the way all the women finished.

  22. 22
    chrisho-stuart

    Addit: I did cringe a bit at the text associated with the photo from 1973 that I posted above.

    In showing that Jock and Katherine were now on the same side for the 1973 Boston marathon, the text says:

    “Boston Marathon official, who for years was against women running in the famous Boston Marathon, poses with pretty Katherine Switzer (L) a marathoner from the Central Park A.C., prior to start of the 77th annual race.”

    It’s unfortunate that the description of Jock gives his history and change of heart, while the description of Katherine omits her pivotal role and simply notes she’s “pretty”. Sigh.

    Still and all, the main thing for me is the positive news that people can change.

  23. 23
    RobNYNY1957

    The hostility is baffling. The women in my family have been making a living for themselves and their families since the potato famines, and have never encountered such hostility. Courtesan, ballet dancer, chicken farmer, school teacher, laundress.

  24. 24
    blf

    I am particularly intrigued by this bit, “Other runners, including Switzer’s boyfriend Tom Miller, blocked Semple”, and (paraphrasing, from other sites) “members of the Sycruse[?] team bodyblocked…”. Without doing any research. that makes if seem like Switzer had “accomplices” — possibly pre-planned, possibly spur-of-the-moment, possibly both — and in any case, BARVO! To Switzer, to her “accomplices”, and (apparently), to Semple for eventually admitting he was wrong (and to organizers in much of the rest of the world for dropping the restrictions).

  25. 25
    blf

    “BARVO!”? Drats, “BRAVO!“…

  26. 26
    Ophelia Benson

    I’d fix it, but I like Barvo. :)

  27. 27
    John Duffy

    I mentioned the BBC radio account of the race in an earlier post, which I do still recommend.

    Switzer’s boyfriend, a football player (American football, I mean), decided that if she could run a marathon, then so could he. She was ahead in the race when she was apprehended; her boyfriend just happened to catch up as she was being man-handled and immediately steamed in with a body-block to Semple that sent him flying. The men from Syracuse were not accomplices as such, in the sense of planning it all out, but she’d been allowed to train with them for a while and they liked her. When she turned up to the race, they were willing to shield her from the view of officials.

  1. 28
    No uteruses fell out » Pharyngula

    […] Ophelia had the photograph, now she’s got the video: Katherine Switzer on being the first woman to run the Boston […]

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