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Kathrine Switzer’s No. 261 bib shows the signs of the times: tears at the corner where a Boston Marathon official tried to rip it off her mid-race.
Switzer became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967 when she registered as “KV Switzer” (for Kathrine Virginia) to elude organizers even though there was no rule based on gender. She has long been one of running’s most iconic figures and ran the race again in 2017.
Switzer, 73, shared how she got into running for the Yahoo Sports video series “Breaking It Down” and reflected on the moment the race director attempted to take her bib and keep her from competing. It occurred a mile and a half in, and her boyfriend decked the man while she continued her race.
“I really went to Boston not to make a political statement. I went to run the race,” Switzer told Yahoo Sports. “But when that happened to me I knew I had to finish. And I knew, I knew, no matter what I had to finish. On my hands and knees I had to finish.
“But I also knew that the reason other women weren’t there was because of some reason, and I at first thought it was their fault again. And then I realized it was because they didn’t have the opportunity. And they didn’t have the opportunity because somewhere along the point when I was told to go run a mile a day, they were told to stop climbing trees and to stop running around and to behave themselves and put on makeup and become cheerleaders.”
It was Switzer’s father who first urged her to take up running, as she spurned cheerleading for field hockey. And when she enrolled at Syracuse University, the men’s cross-country coaches allowed her to train with the team even though she was not allowed to compete. In the early 1960s the school did not offer women’s intercollegiate sports.
An assistant coach, Arnie Briggs, worked with her and helped her sign up for the marathon even though he at first bristled at the thought. Women were too fragile, she said he told her. When she ran 30 miles in training — which made him pass out — Briggs changed his tune.
Switzer, who won the 1974 New York City Marathon, led the effort to include the women’s marathon in the Olympics. It finally happened in 1984 after Switzer teamed up with Avon cosmetics company to sponsor a series of women’s marathon events in the 1970s.
“It’s wonderful to see the excellence and it’s wonderful to see the opportunity emerging, especially from underprivileged places,” Switzer told Yahoo Sports. “To see [how] the easy, cheap and simple sport of running can transform somebody’s life and a poor girl from an obscure country can come up and win the Olympics.”
Her 2007 best-selling book “Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women’s Sports” will be turned into a movie after Chastain Film Capital optioned the screen rights.
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