Women’s History Month may have come to a close, but the celebration will certainly extend into April for the Boston Marathon.
This year’s April 17 race — scheduled as it always is on Patriots’ Day — will mark the 50th anniversary of Kathrine Switzer being the first “officially registered” woman to compete in the event (unregistered female runner Bobbi Gibb — participating as a “bandit” — ran in the 1966-68 races).
What made Switzer’s open participation in the race so seminal is that, at the time, women were not allowed to enter the Boston Marathon. When race director John “Jock” Semple unsuccessfully tried to physically remove her from the course — and was blocked from doing so by Switzer’s burly boyfriend Tom Miller — the iconic images appeared in newspapers worldwide.
And thus the era of female distance running was born.
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By 1972, Boston Marathon officials relented to growing public pressure, opening the race to both sexes.
And in three weeks, the 70-year-old Switzer — who was named Female Runner of the Decade (1967-77) by Runner’s World magazine and went on to become an acclaimed TV commentator, public speaker and author — will show that there are no hard feelings. She’ll celebrate the anniversary by serving as the honorary starter for the elite women’s race, then will lace up her running shoes and traverse those legendary 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston.
Yes, female participation in sports and fitness has come a long way in the last 50 years — and 2017 marks the anniversary of a few other major milestones. Among them:
40th anniversary of the sports bra
Until recreational jogger Lisa Lindahl designed the “jockbra” — which later became the jogbra and evolved into today’s sports bra — women of all ages had no options for proper support while training or competing. Lindahl’s 1977 invention was a game-changer and is now must-have apparel for every woman who strives to be active.
30th anniversary of Navratilova’s last U.S. Open title
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova won the final of her four U.S. Open singles championships in 1987. And sure, the Czech lefty’s aggressive style of play helped transform women’s tennis. But perhaps even more impactful was Navratilova’s approach to fitness.
She lifted weights.
She ran sprints.
She performed agility drills.
And she made it acceptable — some would even argue preferable — for female athletes to be powerful and muscular.
20th anniversary of the WNBA
If you were an NBA fan in 1997 — when Michael Jordan was winning the fifth of his six championships — you couldn’t escape those ubiquitous “We got next” TV commercials promoting the inaugural WNBA season.
Building on the popularity of the 1996 gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team, the league — which was subsidized by the NBA — offered the nation’s top female collegiate hoopsters their first opportunity to earn a professional living stateside.
10th anniversary of equal prize money at Wimbledon
Venus and Serena Williams are transformative figures. And their influence transcends mere sport. They’ve both spurred racial, cultural and equality changes that will be felt for generations to come.
An example of the latter: Venus spent a good decade relentlessly advocating for women to receive equal prize money as their male counterparts.
In 2007, the stodgy old All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club — which, of course, hosts Wimbledon — finally acquiesced.
Making the decision even sweeter for Venus: She won the fourth of her five Wimbledon titles that year.
Steve Dorfman writes for The Palm Beach Post.