The 2022 Boston Marathon will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the official inclusion of women in the race, where American Nina Kuscsik emerged the winner of the eight-woman field with a time of 3:10:26.
But female athletes’ road to inclusion was no smooth sailing.
In 1966, Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb took advantage of a loophole in the Boston Athletic Association’s entry criteria, which did not list any gender restrictions, and became the first woman to run the full Boston Marathon. She ran without an official race number for three years (1966-68), famously hiding in the bushes near the start until the race began.
The following year, Kathrine Switzer signed her entry form as “K. V. Switzer” and was issued a bib number. In an infamous incident documented by photographers, B.A.A. officials tried unsuccessfully to physically remove her from the race, citing that the Amateur Athletics Union (A.A.U.) had not yet formally allowed women in long distance running.
The A.A.U. permitted women to enter its sanctioned marathons in the fall of 1971, and eight women took to the start line in the 1972 Boston Marathon. Kuscsik became the first official champion, and all eight women finished the race.
“The things people would say about why we should not be able to run long distance was crazy,” recalls Valerie Rogosheske, one of the original eight finishers in 1972. “Like, our uteruses would fall out, and we wouldn’t be able to have children, or it was just not good for our health in general. I think they were afraid that the endurance aspect of it would cause us to faint or something. I’m not sure, but it was it was pretty crazy.”
1972 Boston Marathon Original Eight Women Finishers:
- Nina Kuscsik, New York (3:10:26)
- Elaine Pedersen, California (3:20:25)
- Kathrine Switzer, New York (3:29:51)
- Pat Barrett, New Jersey (3:40:29)
- Sara Mae Berman, Massachusetts (3:48:30)
- Valerie Rogosheske, Wirginia (4:29:32)
- Ginny Collins, Massachusetts (4:48:32)
- Frances Morrison, Texas (5:07:00)
Now 75, Rogosheske will join the 14,000 women participants in this year’s race, including daughters Abigail and Allie. The Minnesota native sat down with NBC Sports ahead of her appearance Monday, where she’ll be part of BAA’s honorary women’s team that will commemorate the original eight finishers.
“If I’m totally honest, when I found out that we were going to be legal, there was just a teeny part of me that was disappointed because I was so focused on being a part of the movement, and jumping out of the bushes,” said Rogosheske, who placed in the top 10 in Boston three times, taking sixth in 1972 (4:29:32), ninth in 1973 (3:51:12) and eighth in 1974 (3:09:38). “But what a wonderful thing it was to be legal.”
She clearly remembers seeing her fellow female competitors at the start line in 1972, and while they didn’t verbalize it at the time, Rogosheske said they recognized the gravity of the moment.
“There was this feeling of we all have to finish,” she said. “Nobody drops out. Nobody even walks. I don’t think we actually said that, but I think that was the feeling that was in the air.
“It really is something to think of the growth in opportunity for women in these last 50 years,” added Rogosheske.
“I was a physical education major when women could not do sports. I had no teams to be on, not only in high school but in college either. And to see how opportunities have opened up, to see this whole opportunity unfold for so many women to embrace that physical side of themselves is wonderful.”
Boston’s PHF women’s hockey franchise, the Boston Pride, will serve as ceremonial grand marshals for the event, with Massachusetts natives Jillian Dempsey and Mary Parker serving as the honorary grand marshals. Rogosheske and running icon Marilyn Bevans will be among the honorary starters.
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History of women in the Boston Marathon:
The first Boston Marathon, originally called the American Marathon, was held April 19, 1897. However, it took another 69 years before the first woman, Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb, competed, and it wasn’t until 1972 that women were officially allowed to run the race. Here are some milestone dates leading up to the 126th Boston Marathon and 50th anniversary of women’s inclusion:
- Tuesday, April 19, 1966: Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, where she unofficially joined the starting field shortly after the gun was fired and finished in 3:21:40 to place 126th overall. Gibb claimed the “unofficial” title again in 1967 and 1968.
- Wednesday, April 19, 1967: Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to receive a number in the Boston Marathon after signing her entry form “K. V. Switzer.” Despite repeated attempts by race official Jock Semple to rip off her bib number and eject her from the race, Switzer estimates she finished in 4:20:00.
- Monday, April 17, 1972: Women were allowed to officially run the Boston Marathon, with American Nina Kuscsik winning the eight-person race in 3:10:26.
- Monday, April 21, 1975: Liane Winter of West Germany established a women’s world best of 2:42:24.
- Monday, April 18, 1983: Joan Benoit won her second Boston Marathon in a world best time of 2:22:43. She won the inaugural women’s Olympic Marathon the following year, becoming the first person to win the Boston and Olympic marathons.
- Monday, April 21, 1986: Prize money is awarded for the first time, thanks to the backing of Boston-based John Hancock, and Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen took the title in 2:24:55. She also won a new car and $35,000 in prize and bonus money.
- Monday, April 16, 1990: Jean Driscoll, from Champaign, Ill., won her first of seven consecutive wheelchair division races.
- Monday, April 15, 1996: The historic 100th running of the Boston Marathon featured Germany’s Uta Pippig, who overcame a 30-second deficit and severe dehydration to become the first woman of the official era to win the race three consecutive years.
- Monday, April 21, 1997: Ethiopia’s Fatuma Roba became the fourth person to win the Boston and Olympic Marathons, and the first African woman to win the Boston Marathon. Two years later, she would become the second woman of the official era to win the race three consecutive years.
- Monday, April 17, 2000: Jean Driscoll won an unprecedented eighth title in the wheelchair division, moving her past legendary Hall of Famer Clarence H. DeMar for most all-time victories at Boston. Catherine Ndereba became the first Kenyan woman to win the Boston Marathon.
- Monday, April 15, 2002: Two records were set in the women’s race when Margaret Okayo of Kenya dethroned two-time defending champion Catherine Ndereba in 2:20:43, and Russia’s Firaya Sultanova-Zhdanova broke the 14-year-old masters record with her 2:27:58 victory.
- Monday, April 19, 2004: To better showcase the women’s elite field, the B.A.A. implemented a separate start for the top female runners, with 35 women beginning at 11:31 a.m. (29 minutes before the rest of the field and the traditional noon start).
- Monday, April 18, 2005: Catherine Ndereba became the first four-time winner of the women’s open division.
- Monday, April 18, 2016: Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Bobbi Gibbs’ 1966 run, officials announce that years between 1966 and 1971 would no longer be known as the “Unofficial Era,” but rather the “Pioneer Era” going forward. As a symbol of appreciation, women’s winner Atsede Baysa gifted her Champion’s Trophy to Gibb, who served as the 2016 Boston Marathon Grand Marshal.
- Monday, April 16, 2018: Desiree Linden becomes the first American in 33 years, since Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in 1985, to win the women’s category at the Boston Marathon.
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More on the 2022 Boston Marathon Honorary Women’s Team:
- Mary Wacera Ngugi: The Kenyan standout, who finished third in the 2021 Boston Marathon, has been using her platform to spread awareness against domestic violence. Upon the death last October of fellow Kenyan runner and two-time world championship medalist Agnes Tirop, who was stabbed to death by her estranged husband, Ngugi helped establish the Women’s Athletic Alliance to fight against domestic abuse and inequalities, particularly for female athletes in East Africa.
- Manuela Schär: The Swiss standout has earned three Boston Marathon titles as well as the last three Abbott World Marathon Majors series titles. At the 2020 Paralympics, Schär earned five medals (including two gold) in distances from the 400 meters to marathon. She currently holds the marathon world record and Boston course record holder (1:28:17) and is the only women’s wheelchair athlete ever to break the 1:30 barrier.
- Melissa Stockwell: In April 2004 – one month after being deployed to Iraq as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army’s transportation corps – Stockwell became the first female American soldier to lose a limb in active combat after her vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. Four years later, she became the first Iraq War veteran to qualify for the Paralympic Games, competing in swimming at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. She’s since competed in the Paralympic debut of triathlon in 2016 (winning bronze) and the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
- Sarah Fuller: Texas native Fuller made history in 2020 as the first woman to suit up for a SEC football game while at Vanderbilt University, where she played soccer. Two weeks later, she made history again as the first woman to play in – and score – in a Power 5 football game, kicking a pair of extra points for the Commodores. She’s currently pursuing her graduate degree at the University of North Texas, where she’s also goalkeeper for the soccer team, and this summer she’ll play for Minnesota Aurora FC of the USL W League.
- Kristine Lilly: The two-time World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist will make her second start in the Boston Marathon and first in 10 years. Lilly, who played professionally for the Boston Breakers from 2001-03 and 2009-10, was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2012 and U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 2014.
- Jocelyn Rivas: As a child in El Salvador, Rivas was told she would likely not be able to walk. But in November 2021, she completed her 100th marathon at the age of 24, making her the Guinness World Record holder for the youngest woman to run 100 marathons and the world record holder for youngest Latina to ever do so. As a DACA recipient who immigrated to the United States when she was 6, Rivas takes aim at her 112th marathon with the hope of using her platform to inspire other Dreamers.
- Verna Volker: Volker is a member of the Navajo Nation and founder of Native Women Running, which seeks to build and nurture a community that features and encourages Native women runners. The mother of four also is part of the leadership team for the Running Industry Diversity Coalition, which focuses on improving inclusion, visibility and access for Black, Indigenous and people of color within the sport.