Female trailblazers return to Boston Marathon | News | DW | 17.04.2017
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Female trailblazers return to Boston Marathon

Runner legends Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb agreed to take part in the Boston Marathon, five decades after breaking down barriers for women running the course. Both completed the course, Switzer in a time of 4:44:31.

Boston held the 121st edition of its marathon on Monday, with an estimated 30,000 people taking part in the world's oldest annual race of this kind. Among them were Kathrine Switzer and Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb, two women who changed the event forever.

Gibb became the first woman to run the marathon in 1966, at the time when organizers believed females to be too frail for the grueling 42.195 kilometers (26 miles 385 yards) course. Instead of starting at the line with male athletes, Gibb hid in the bushes and set off at race's start. Despite finishing, she was never registered as a participant.

"I was hacking through the jungle. There was no path at all," she told the Associated Press news agency.

Inspired by Gibb, Kathrine Switzer decided she would officially take part in the race the year later. She managed to register and start with the others, but the she was made famous when race director Jock Semple tried to pull her off the course. Later, Semple said he was trying to protect his race from international rules that sanctioned only men's marathons.

"We thought we were following the rules," Switzer said. "And Jock thought we were trying to pull a fast one."

'Full regalia' for Switzer

Switzer's boyfriend managed to block Semple, enabling her to continue running. The photos of the struggle and her No. 261 bib, however, became famous worldwide.

USA Kathrine Switzer | Boston Marathon 1967 (picture alliance/dpa/UPI)

Switzer entered her name as K. V. Switzer ahead of the race

Semple and Switzer became friends several years later.

She remained involved with the event, supporting female runners and providing TV commentary in Boston for the last 37 years. In 2015, she set up an NGO that uses running to empower women around the world, labeling it 261 Fearless.

Switzer, now 70-years-old, wore the same number at the starting line on Monday.

"I will put on the full regalia: the bib plus the eye liner, mascara and lipstick," she told Reuters.

While Switzer is running the course, Gibb returned as the grand marshal for the female competition for the second year in a row. The grand marshal rides in a pace car ahead of the pack, signaling to the crowd that racers are close behind.

Kenya sweeps the 2017 edition

Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya held off a challenge from American Galen Rupp in the last mile to win the men's race on Monday, finishing the course in 2 hours, 9 minutes and 36 seconds.

Kirui's compatriot Edna Kiplagat was the fastest finisher among the women, crossing the line almost a minute clear in 2 hours, 21 minutes and 52 seconds. Rose Chelimo of Bahrain was second, with a US runner on the podium - Jordan Hasay finished in precisely 2 hours and 23 minutes.

Among the wheelchair competitors, Switzerland's Manuela Schar set a blistering pace of 1 hour, 28 minutes and 17 seconds, becoming the first woman to break the 90-minute barrier. However, Boston's course - with a high chance of tailwinds at key junctures - is considered ineligible for wheelchair world records. Another Swiss athlete won the men's wheelchair race, Marcel Hug crossed the line in a time of 1 hour, 18 minutes and 4 seconds.

dj/msh (AP, Reuters)