1983 – Grete Waitz

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17-Apr-1983 – London Marathon – 2:25:28.7 – Adidas Atlanta
Date of birth: 1-Oct-1953 (died 19-Apr-2011 – aged 57)
Nationality: Norwegian
World Record duration: 1 years, 26 days

The athlete:                
Grete Waitz is arguably the most accomplished athlete on this list. By the time she laced up for the 1983 London Marathon Waitz had already won the New York City Marathon four times. Waitz fought with knee and stomach problems throughout. Nearing the final stretch, she could see the large digital clock ticking away with the crowd growing louder as it became clear she could take the world record. Using all of her reserves, Waitz sprinted to make the finish, setting a time that was equal best with Allison Roe’s performance at the 1981 New York City Marathon.

That time however was disallowed as it was on the New York City Marathon course found to be short in 1985, with results from the 1981 event invalidated by World Athletics. Although Waitz had set the marathon world record at the 1978, 1979, and 1980 events, it was on the same course used in 1981. While World Athletics still recognises these earlier times, the list maintained by the Association of Road Racing Statisticians does not. More information about that can be found in my article on the New York City Marathon here.

Waitz would go on to win the 1983 World Championships and in 1986 secure another victory at the London Marathon. The only accolade that eluded Waitz was Olympic gold. On that day in 1984, the first Olympic women’s marathon, she would still finish second with no answer for the pace of Joan Benoit. Although she did not use this as an excuse, Waitz was wearing a back brace during the race to manage various injuries. She would get another chance at Olympic glory in 1988, but it wasn’t to be. Waitz had undergone arthroscopic surgery to fix a lingering knee issue one month before the race in Seoul. She made the start but after 18 miles had to quit. She would still finish the year with her ninth and final victory in the New York City Marathon. In her last competitive run at the 1990 event, Waitz still managed to finish 4th and get below 2:35 in the process.

Tragically, Waitz would be diagnosed with cancer in 2005. In 2007, she would help establish the Active Against Cancer foundation in Norway, to help other cancer patients stay active. Waitz would go on to setup training centres at cancer hospitals to achieve this goal. After a fight that lasted seven years, she would succumb to the illness in 2011. Waitz left one of the greatest legacies in modern athletics, and to quote Rob De Castella, she was the first lady of the marathon.

The shoes:                   

Fortunately, identifying the shoes Waitz wore is easy. Although Adidas would go on to give Waitz her own shoe, at the time she favoured the Adidas Atlanta. She chose the model to replace the lightweight Adistar Runner she wore for the 1981 New York City Marathon in which she suffered a DNF. Until that point she had of course worn the iconic blue and yellow Marathon 80.

The Atlanta featured the Dellinger Web technology that Adidas used at the time. It helped distribute the force of the impact by compressing the netting on impact and pulling the rest of the netting along the midsole. This acts as a torsion bar to absorb more of the shock, before springing back into shape.

Adidas have a pair worn by the Norwegian in their archive, the red suede upper showing the battle scars from the marathons it competed in. Adidas has brought back the Atlanta on several occasions, most recently in 2017, so pairs should still be out there and in the same colour that Waitz made famous back in 1983. Waitz would stick with Adidas for the rest of her competitive career.

This would include the release in 1985 of the Grete Waitz model, designed as the counterpart to the technically identical De Castella Rotterdam. While it more than proved its credentials in slightly modified form as the Japanese market Roader-SR on the feet of Belayneh Densamo in 1988, it appears Waitz never wore the model in marathon competition, while De Castella did wear his variant on one occasion at the 1985 Chicago Marathon. Waitz did however many other different models of Adidas after the Atlanta.

During 1984 there was the Marathon Competition, the 180 gram lightweight and minimalist model powering Waitz through the 1984 Olympics. The year after she would switch to the updated Marathon Competition, with what appeared to be modifications made for her running style, coming in at 227 grams. She continued wearing the same model through to the 1988 Olympics.

Finally, at the 1990 New York City Marathon, Waitz wore a particularly special pair of Adidas. The EQT 91 Racing was the pinnacle of the new Adidas Equipment range the brand had been developing since 1989 in an attempt to rediscover its performance running roots. The shoe was so minimalist the upper didn’t even cover the whole foot, part of the midfoot exposed in the quest for lightness. Although neither version of the Marathon Competition has come back, the EQT 91 Racing has been rereleased multiple times, including in the original colourway worn by Waitz.

A Long Time Coming by Jacqueline Hansen