The Olympics are upon us, and it brings back some memories! In 1984, I was Lance Corporal in the USMC serving at MCAS El Toro in Santa Ana, California. Sue and I were married just one year, and I earned two promotions that year – one for being named the Marine of the Month and one for being named Marine of the Quarter. Suddenly, I was a Sergeant! Someday I’ll tell you about those days, and my expectation of becoming a Drill Instructor. Suffice to say – I didn’t go that route. So where was I? Ah yes, the Olympics. Sue and I received free tickets to several events over 4 days at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles as a result of my double promotion. More than that, we also were provided a free room at the Century Plaza Hotel – dubbed the Western White House when President Reagan was in office. The room was bigger than our apartment. The smog was worse than you can imagine. We also were provided free transportation to all events and free food! It was as incredible as it sounds. Just thinking about it makes me want to break out the souvenir pins.
I have very tiny pictures of Carl Lewis running at the Olympics (Remember, we had Kodak cameras back then; and we could only afford the “click snap” version. Plus, we had to get the film developed. Knowing us, it was six months before we could scrape together the coin needed to get the pictures. My kids are just rolling their eyes right now.). Lewis won four gold medals that year.
More importantly, Joan Benoit won the first women’s gold medal for the marathon at the 1984 Olympics. As incredible as it may sound, the women’s marathon was not part of the Olympics until then. It was largely due to Kathrine Switzer’s efforts that the event was added to the Games. In 1978, Kathrine had created and organized a global series of races – the Avon International Running Circuit – that demonstrated women’s capability for completing the marathon. The Avon races received sanction by the American Amateur Athletic Union in 1972. By 1979, Grete Waitz crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon under the 2:30 mark – a first for women, and the Avon Marathon attracted over 250 world class entrants from 25 countries. Also in 1979, Jacqueline Hansen, a world class marathoner, teamed up with other runners from around the world to fight for the inclusion of the women’s marathon in the Olympics. The tide was shifting, and with the backing from Nike, additional support from the running universe chided the OIC to make the right choice. But, it was Kathrine who in February of 1981 personally traveled to Los Angeles, the site of the OIC’s Executive Board meeting, held to determine whether the race would be included, and lobbied on behalf of all women for inclusion. She went so far as to personally lobby the Belgium official – a key hold out on the vote – and provide him with data about women’s achievements in running. The OIC Executive Board voted to recommend the addition of the event to the full OIC Board. It wasn’t until September 1981 that the women’s marathon was officially added to the 1984 Olympics. Nuts, isn’t it?
It’s been 32 years since my Olympic visit, and I still fondly recall those days. I wish I knew then of the importance of the XXIII Olympics to the fight for women’s equality. It’s a part of our country’s history that Sue and I lived – we were there! While not as meaningful as the 1848 Convention, it was an important moment. But just think, our predecessors in Seneca Falls made history and began the move that has changed the world as we know it today.