As I read an email from the Peter Tatchell Foundation, it was hard to believe my eyes. Not only are women still having to demand equality as to rules, number of events and representation on athlete bodies, but they have a targeted beef about the marathon: IOC President Jacques Rogge will not present the gold medal to the female winner. He will, however, give that treasured gold only to the male winner.
My blood boiled. Clearly Rogge has no idea what these symbols mean, what it means for a woman to stand on the top of the podium in this event.
A little history is in order, about this hard-won Olympic event. As a former runner who helped pioneer women's marathoning in the U.S., I was there when we were asking for more than just the right to run farther than 2 1/2 miles in AAU-sanctioned events. It was the right to have treatment that was equal to that of men. The right to a separate dressing room and showers after the race. The right to police protection and traffic control out on the road. The right to some food after the race. Even the right to the symbols, like trophies.
U.S. women marathoners had started out by jumping into the men's races, like the Boston Marathon, and running unofficially without numbers as a civil-disobedience protest. It was also the best way to show the world that women, with adequate training, could handle this event.
The first time an organized group of women did this was the 1969 Boston. Twelve of us started, and 6 finished, including myself (I ran 4th). The Boston Athletic Assn., who organized the race, didn't have us arrested, but they just ignored us. It was a beastly day, weather-wise, with rain and sleet along the route. We were officially excluded from police protection and traffic control. When we got to the finish line in downtown Boston, we were officially excluded from the scoring, not to mention the comforts that surrounded the men, like a warm dressing room and warm food. We freezing women changed in cars, or a motel room somewhere. The men got trophies. We women got a hug from our supporters.
The AAU threatened to suspend us. They also threatened to suspend any race directors who sympathized with us. They continued to parrot the allegedly "scientific" objections that long-distance running is "harmful" to women.
But race directors across the U.S. had already noticed the flurry of media publicity that our protests were getting. Women were a way to get big press coverage for the most obscure race. So race directors started inviting us. They gave us numbers and had their officials score us. They gave us the whole support package -- a dressing room, medical care if needed, traffic and police coverage. And they gave us trophies. Even the symbols were important. Those cheap mass-produced trophies had a lot of meaning for the female upstarts who took them home.
Not surprisingly, growing numbers of women who had trained hard were showing up at marathons across the country. Pretty soon hundreds of us were pouring into the big races.
The AAU stamped its foot with outrage, but there was no stopping the growing momentum. I was deep in the politics, serving on the Metropolitan AAU Long Distance Committee in New York, and attending the AAU conventions with other women, demanding that the rules be changed. And, of course, I was writing about the women's efforts, mostly for Runner's World. By 1970, even the Boston Athletic Assn. had dropped its crusty old-school attitude of "no women allowed." They defied the AAU and invited us, offering all the care and protection and perks that the men got.
By 1971, the AAU was conceding defeat in its efforts to keep females out of this sport. Women were officially cleared to run in the 1971 edition of a new race called the New York City Marathon, but in a separate division with its own scoring. As publicity director for that race, under the leadership of race director Fred Lebow, I was thrilled to see the changes happening. Needless to say, the women got the whole package -- including nice trophies for winner Beth Bonner and the 2nd and 3rd place finishers. I ran too, and logged another fourth.
In due course, the AAU rules were changed. U.S. women were sanctioned to run up to 50 miles, same as the men.
To get this sport to the Olympics, it took another decade of hard work and hard politicking, internationally, by a growing army of women and their supporters in a growing number of countries. But the IOC finally accepted the women's marathon as an official event for 1984. Unlike most marathons across the world, the male and female Olympic marathons would be run as two separate events.
By then I was no longer involved in the sport. But I felt great satisfaction as I watched on TV. The U.S.'s Joan Benoit raced to victory and stood on the podium for that first medal of real gold.
Clearly IOC President Rogge has no idea what a gold medal means to women in this event. He has no idea that his decision to not award the gold personally is a slap in the face to women athletes all over the world. It's one of the many disturbing pieces of evidence that women still don't enjoy equal and fair treatment at the Olympics.
The women's marathon won't be run till Sunday, August 5th. So Rogge has 10 days to think it over. I hope he thinks it good, and changes his mind. Yes, it IS about the whole package. Not just the right to run, and to be officially scored, or even to have a warm dressing room and a bowl of chili after the race.
The symbols are important. That's why we have them.
Find more about Patricia on her Web site. Copyright (c) 2012 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.
Patricia Nell Warren LGBT Sports Summit (via OutSports)