In the streets of London, 1,500 miles from Moscow, 199 women were staging an Olympic protest of yet another sort. They were the contenders in the third running of the Avon International Marathon. Because there is no marathon for women in the Olympics—nor any other distance events beyond 1,500 meters—this race serves as the unofficial world championship for 26.2 miles. Female marathoners everywhere are determined that this will be the last Olympics without them.
The route of last week’s race was a veritable Cook’s tour of London, starting at Battersea Park, past Parliament and the Tower of London and ending at the Guildhall. The day was warm and muggy. But the women took it, and the ankle-threatening cobblestones, in stride. “There is so much talent here,” exclaimed Kathrine Switzer, director of the Avon International Running Circuit and the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. Indeed, five entrants finished in less than two hours and 40 minutes. The winning time of two hours, 35 minutes, 11 seconds was set by Lorraine Moller, a 24-year-old former high school teacher from New Zealand. It pushed her into seventh place (from 11th) in world standings, behind second-ranked Joan Benoit of the U.S., who came in fourth, and top-rated Grete Waitz of Norway, who missed the race. (She holds the women’s world record of 2:27:33, set in 1979.) More important, Moller was only 24 minutes behind the time of this year’s winning Olympic marathoner, East German Waldemar Cierpinski.
The International Olympic Committee contends that not enough countries compete in the women’s marathon to warrant its inclusion in the Games. With runners from 27 countries entered in the Avon race, the argument now seems limp. “If the Olympics really represent the world’s best athletes coming together,” says Moller, “then it’s meaningless without a women’s marathon.”