64th Street and Central Park Drive, October 1st 1972.
The start line of the third annual New York City Marathon. An unusual amount of press congregate around the area. Something is about to happen, they’re just not sure what.They had been tipped off by Fred Lebow, an advocate for women’s running, who knew how to create publicity.
At this time, long distance running for women was almost impossible. The media judged sporting women by their looks not their athletic ability. They were not permitted to run in events further than a cross country run of 1.5 miles. Even doctors suggested that running long distances could seriously harm the female body and should be avoided.
Five years earlier in 1967, Katherine Switzer ran in the Boston Marathon. When the race director realised a woman was in the race he furiously tried to remove her from the course, ripping her race number off her back, and was only prevented in doing so by Katherine‘s boyfriend who impeded him. Katherine went on to finish the race and proved that women could run the marathon distance. Katherine was disqualified and neither her finishing time or position was recorded. She was banned by the AAU for running with men, for fraudulent entry (she uses her initials as her signature) and running more than 1.5 miles. The Amateur Athletics Union (AAU) organised every marathon and track event, including making decisions on who should participate in the Olympics. Their rules were the only rules.
Fred was well aware of the industry’s chauvinistic views of the and would use this to create publicity in order to show the AAU that women belonged in long distance running. As president of the New York Road Runners club he met Katherine and Nina Kuscsik to organise a women only running event in the city. In May of 1972, the Crazylegs mini marathon took place, so named due to the sponsor (a ladies shave cream called Crazylegs) and ‘mini’ due the miniskirt being in fashion at the time. To generate more publicity, Fred Lebow even brought Playboy bunnies to the start line. He recruited 78 women to run the race and in doing so encouraged more and more women to follow suit. The success of the race gained the attention of America, leading to President Nixon signing Title IX which levelled the playing field for men and women in sports. Entry to the Boston Marathon was now permitted, however the AAU weren’t entirely on board, insisting that women start 10 minutes prior to the men.
Photo (Patrick Burns)
Back to the start line. Fred, Nina and other members of the New York Road Runners club had previously met to arrange a protest and this was the moment. As the gun went off, the six women were given their quickly made signs aimed directly at the AAU and sat down. The publicity stunt worked and made headline news with a photo of the protest appearing on the front page of the New York Times. As the men started 10 minutes later, so too did the women. Many male runners were against the discriminatory rulings but knew that running with women could result in themselves being banned from future events, including for some, the Olympics. The womens’ finishing times included the sit down but they knew that on this occasion it was the start, not the finish, that mattered most. In sitting down, Lynn, Nina, Pat, Liz, Cathy and Jane made a stand for equality.
A few months later the rules were changed and the start line became the one of unity that we see today.
We run as one.
Because the six sat.