WHAT ABOUT WOMEN? The women marathon pioneers

Until 1928, women were restricted to only running sprint races. Female long-distance runners were a rare breed.

Revue Olympique : vol. XXVI-17, Oct-Nov. 1997 / Stamata Revithi, alias « Melpomène » par Athanasios Tarasouleas, p. 53-55 (1896) by Comité International Olympique (CIO)The Olympic Museum

Athens 1896: did women participate unofficially?

When the Olympic Games were revived in 1896, women were barred from official participation.
However, two newspapers from the time mention two female "competitors".
Melpomene, as reported by the Athens Messenger on 14 March 1896, allegedly ran the distance from Marathon to Athens in 4 hours and 30 minutes. A month later, the Greek newspaper Asti mentions that  Stamata Revithi also ran from Marathon to Athens in 5 hours and 30 minutes, the day after the official men's race.

Marie-Louise LEDRU (FRA) et le « Tour de Paris » en 1918 (1918) by Bibliothèque nationale de FranceThe Olympic Museum

Marie-Louise LEDRU and the "Tour de Paris" in 1918

On 29 September 1918, Frenchwoman Marie-Louise LEDRU joined the men for a " Tour de Paris ", completing it in 5 hours and 40 minutes. She finished 38th out of 78 competitors, challenging the notion that women were incapable of running a marathon.

Mlle Violet Piercey, coureuse de fond, du Mitcham Ladies Athletics Club. Vers 1933 (1933) by MirrorpixThe Olympic Museum

Violet PIERCY, the first record holder of the women's marathon in 1926

British athlete Violet PIERCY is officially recognised as the holder of the first women's marathon record by the International Association of Athletics Federations.
On 3 October 1926, she achieved a time of 3 hours, 40 minutes and 22 seconds when she ran between Windsor and London.

In the social and historical context of the first 60 years of the 20th century, society perceived women as lacking endurance and therefore incapable of completing a marathon. This patriarchal notion of women as the guardians of the household, responsible for survival and continuing the species, was deeply ingrained in people's minds. As a result, anything that challenged women's traditional roles was viewed with fear! 

Amsterdam 1928, les femmes pas assez endurantes ? (2023) by Comité International Olympique (CIO)The Olympic Museum

Amsterdam 1928

Are women unsuited to endurance sports?

Amsterdam 1928 – 800 m Femmes, Karoline RADKE (GER) 1ère (1928) by Comité International Olympique (CIO)The Olympic Museum

Amsterdam 1928, Karoline RADKE

Despite the world record set by German athlete Karoline RADKE of 2 hours, 16 minutes and 8 seconds, some press reports of the event claimed that several female finalists collapsed from exhaustion at the finish line. This would have a detrimental effect on the sport, causing it to disappear from competitions until the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960.

1930 - Membre CIO P-J de Matheu - La femme dans la culture physique et les sports (1930) by Comité International Olympique (CIO)The Olympic Museum

The role of women in physical culture and sports in 1930

A report presented by an IOC member reminded people that in medical terms, running is beneficial for women and young girls if properly supervised. P.J. de MATHEU then made a request to admit women to athletic events in the Olympic Programme.

Boston 1972 : Premier marathon féminin de l'histoire avec Nina Kuscik, Boston ; Kathy Miller, Syracuse; Elaine Pedersen, San Francisco ; Ginny Collins, Boston ; Pat Barrett Shore, Athletic Club, N.J. ; Frances Morrison, Dallas et Sara Mae Berman de Cambridge (1972) by BettmannThe Olympic Museum

A patriarchal Western society

Until the late 1960s, the role of women was limited to carrying out household chores. 

" They told us that if we ran too much, our uteruses would fall out ! ",  said Nina KUSCSIK (USA), number F2, who became the first woman to officially win the Boston Marathon in 1972.

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