April 17 (UPI) — The first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon is back this year, 50 years later.
Kathrine Switzer became a pivotal figure in the women’s movement in 1967, when, registered as “K. V. Switzer,” she ran the annual Boston Marathon during an era when it was a men-only event. An iconic photo shows race official Jock Semple attempting to confiscate her number as she headed to a finish in 4 hours and 20 minutes.
She was not the first woman to finish the race — another woman completed the 26-mile, 385-yard competition in the prior year without registering or wearing an official number — but the famous photo, and Switzer’s daring, helped expose the nature of sexism in sports.
Switzer, 70, will compete again on Monday, wearing the same number — 261 — she wore in 1967. That number will be retired after Monday’s event.
After the incident afforded her celebrity status, she joined Avon Inc. as an executive and helped create the Avon International Running Circuit of women-only races in 27 countries. The running series helped persuade the International Olympic Committee to add women’s marathon to the list of sports in the 1984 Summer Olympics. Switzer won the New York City Marathon in 1974, became an author, television sports commentator and activist, and returned to marathon running at 64; she has completed 39 marathons.
The number 261 became a rallying cry for female athletes and Switzer formed 261 Fearless, a running club with chapters across the United States. She and Semple eventually became good friends.
“It wasn’t until Jock attacked me that everything changed,” she said. “Then it was a radicalizing and inspiring experience.”