1975 – Jacqueline Hansen

Source: Doug Schwab (link under references)

12-Oct-1975 – Nike OTC Marathon – 2:38:19 – Adidas Marathon
Date of birth: 20-Nov-1948
Nationality: American
World Record duration: 1 year, 6 months, 19 days

The athlete:                
Jacqueline Hansen was at the centre of one of the most competitive eras of distance running. Since setting the world record the precious year, Christa Vahlensieck and Liane Winter had gone even faster. She initially had no particular goal in mind for the 1975 Nike OTC Marathon, having selected it as she felt her training was insufficient for the national marathon championships. It used the same course as the men’s Olympic Marathon T rials. Closer to the time however she felt more could be achieved. When asked about her plans Hansen said she intended to run as close to six minutes per mile as possible.

With ideal weather and a flat course, she ran the first 20 miles averaging mere seconds above her goal. When she heard of her pace at that point, she accelerated, completing the final five miles in under six minutes per mile pace. Hansen described the race as effortless and euphoric, her skin covered in goosebumps. She felt it was the perfect performance, citing it as the most memorable run of her career. Although she would continue competing at the elite level for many years, in her words too many races meant too much stress on her body.

One of the bigger disappointments of her later career was the stress fracture in her foot that took her out of the 1978 New York City Marathon. Hansen has run a 50 mile race the previous month, having set no less than 11 world records along the way. Competitor and friend Christa Vahlensieck would similarly pull out following foot issues, the pair watching as marathon debutante Grete Waitz won and set the new world record.

It was perhaps her efforts away from competition that defined her legacy. Hansen was one of the driving forces behind getting the Olympics to include all of the same distance races that were available to men, including the marathon. As the president of the International Runners’ Committee, which Hansen formed in 1979 with the strong backing of Nike, she would throw herself into activism for her sport.

Despite initially showing an attitude that was dismissive and disgusting, the International Association of Athletics Federations relented in 1980 and recognised as world records the 5,000 metre and 10,000 metre disciplines for women. They importantly then announced that the 1983 World Championships would include the women’s marathon. This was in addition to the confirmation in 1981 that the women’s marathon would be part of the 1984 Olympics.

Nonetheless, the middle distances were still not included despite continued pressure from Hansen and many others. With the help of the ACLU, sge would go on to bring an international discrimination case against the International Olympic Committee in late 1983 to force them to include races for women at the same distances available to men.

Although the lawsuit was unsuccessful, Hansen had brought enormous publicity to the issue, and those disciplines were added to later Olympics. Her other major achievement relating to the Olympics was making the marathon trials for the first ever women’s event. Even making the start was incredible, given Hansen had undergone surgery on her legs in November 1983.

She had until April to qualify. The 1984 Boston Marathon would be her third marathon in as many months, and her last chance. In terribly cold conditions she battles through, on pace but suffering terribly. With one mile to go, she blacked out, waking up in the medical tent. After asking for her results, she was told she had run fast enough to qualify.

The next month she took part in what was in many ways the most important marathon of her career. Although she finished in just over three hours, her body unable to keep up with the strain she had put it through to get there, it was hardly the point. She had made an indelible mark on distance running, and would continue to do so with her activism that has included helping to get women’s ski jumping added to the Winter Olympics in 2014, the situation paralleling her own decades earlier.

The shoes:                   

Given the success she had with the Adidas Marathon the previous year, it is little surprise that Hansen wore the same shoes when she set another world record. You can read more about that in the entry of her 1974 world record.

First Ladies of Running by Amby Burfoot
A Long Time Coming by Jacqueline Hansen
Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer