1980 – Joyce Smith

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16-Nov-1980 – Tokyo International Women’s Marathon – 2:30:27 – Puma Super Sonic
Date of birth: 26-Oct-1937
Nationality: English
World Record duration: 4 months, 13 days

The athlete:                
Starting her marathon career at an age where most were hanging up their boots, Joyce Smith had already enjoyed quite the career competing in shorter distances. She had won the National Cross Country Championship in both 1959 and 1960, having missed out on making the 1960 Olympics for the 800 metres by one place.

She would take time out from her athletics career and had considered retiring, but came back with a vengeance. She won the International Cross Country Championship in 1972 and 1973, and would finally make the 1972 Olympics in the 1,500 metres. Although she didn’t make the final, she set a UK record in the process.

With Smith admitting her age was getting the better of her, she turned to the marathon and competed in her first at the 1979 British Championships. Her debut was good enough to secure an invite to compete in Germany at the Avon International Marathon. She not only won but set the new fastest British women’s marathon time by nine minutes. This led to her invitation to the Tokyo International Women’s Marathon in 1980.

It has not been possible to find many details about the race itself, but what we know is that when Smith crossed the finish line, she did so in 2:30:27. Given the New York City Marathon course on which Grete Waitz set her world records was found later to have been short, this is considered by the Association of Road Racing Statisticians (ARRS) as having been the world record. The ARRS are an independent group created years later by many former racing officials and supported by researchers from across the world.

Smith’s focus was absolute. When asked how she enjoyed the sights of Tokyo along the marathon course, she said she hadn’t seen any of them. For her the focus was on the race and nothing else. Her world record performance would also be far from her last. You can read more about that here.

The shoes:                   

The shoes Smith had on her feet can be seen reasonably clearly in the photo of her powering to the finish at the 1980 event. The patented formstrip along the midfoot, the toebox overlay and the heel counter mark it out as the evocatively named Puma Super Sonic. Although the upper is very similar to the contemporary Track Rider model, the outsole doesn’t extend up the front and it doesn’t have the same aggressive lug pattern.

Little information is available on the Super Sonic, other than it weighed in at only 190 grams and was meant for serious runners. The Super Sonic has remained in the past, although the visually similar Fast Rider, the training version of the Track Rider, came back in a big way at the end of 2019. In addition to the original colourway, Puma released many new takes on the classic model.