Grete Waitz is a former world-class track and distance runner. Among her accomplishments, she may be best known for her success in the marathon. Her victories included nine of the New York City Marathon.
Waitz is a pioneer in women's track events. She was one of the first women to compete at 3,000 m. Her world records attained at that distance reinforced the idea that women could successfully compete in track at a high level internationally.
Waitz was born in Oslo in 1953. Despite displaying a childhood aptitude for athletics, she was discouraged from training by her parents. At that time, athletics in general, and track in particular, were not considered a proper pursuit for a woman.
As a result, Waitz's early training was self-financed. Even when she competed at the 1972 Summer Olympics held in Munich, the first time women were allowed to compete in the 1,500-m, Waitz supported herself by studying at a teachers college in Norway. By then, she had gained her parents' acceptance for the serious development of her obvious running talent. Nonetheless, her teachers' training represented her safeguard occupation.
While at college, Waitz began to train twice a day and increased her training mileage to an average of 75 mi (121 km) per week. Her dedication and diligence paid off. Her running career blossomed and by the end of the 1970s, with the acceptance of women's running, running had become a lucrative fulltime pursuit.
In 1975, she twice set new world record times for the women's 3,000-m. Despite her success on the track, the high weekly training mileage had convinced Waitz that her calling lay in longer distances. She focused on the marathon, a 26.2-mi (42 km) event.
During the 1970s and 1980s, she enjoyed great success in the marathon. Beginning in 1978, Waitz won the New York Marathon nine times, an accomplishment that has not been matched by any other woman, or man. As well, she was victorious in the 1983 and 1986 London Marathon, and at the 1983 World Championships.
Prior to her first marathon victory, Waitz had never run more than 13 mi (21 km) in training or competition. She not only won the race, but set a women's world record in the process.
Her best showing in the Olympic women's marathon was in the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles, the sole time she competed, where she placed second behind American Joan Benoit Samuelson. She was denied a chance to compete in the 1980 Olympics, as Norway was one of the 65 countries that boycotted the Moscow Olympics in protest of the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.
In addition to her marathon successes, Waitz won the World Cross-Country Championships four years in a row beginning in 1978 and followed by another victory, this time in 1983.
Among the tributes accorded Waitz are "Grete's Great Gallop" (a race held in her honor each year by The New York Road Runner's Club), a statue outside Oslo's famed Bislett Stadium, and a set of stamps issued in her honor by the Norwegian government.
Although she is no longer a competitive runner, Waitz continues to contribute to the sport by participating and organizing corporate running events. Her focus now is to inspire others to adopt a more healthy lifestyle and to raise funds for charities that include CARE International and the International Special Olympics.
Her emphasis on health has become especially poignant since she began therapy for cancer in mid-2005 at the age of 51. As of 2006, her therapy continues.