World’s Best Will Race honoring trailblazers at 50th NY Mini 10K

Three of the fastest runners in the world will race on Saturday in honor of three of the most revered trailblazers in women’s running. The six icons will meet at the start of the 50th anniversary edition of the New York Mini 10K, in New York’s Central Park.

Peres Jepchirchir (Kenya), Senberi Teferi (Ethiopia) and Sara Hall (Flagstaff, USA) could chase the world record (29:14, by Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Ethiopia), if the conditions are right. Jepchirchir is the first woman to win the Olympic, Boston and New York marathons, and will be running the Mini for the first time. Her endurance will be tested by the pace of Teferi, the 5km world record holder, who also broke the race record at the New York Half Marathon in March. If the pace is slow, count on the speed of arrival of Hall, whose dazzling sprint has won the last two Mini titles (2019, 2021).

Anyway, the three stars of 2022 will race in the presence of three legends of the first race of the Mini fifty years ago. Jacki Dixon (now Jacki Marsh, and mayor of the town of Loveland, Colorado) was the 17-year-old Californian who won that hot and humid June 3, 1972, carried by the San Francisco Examiner after winning the city’s Bay to Breakers race. Nina Kuscsik and Kathrine Switzer, both New Yorkers, placed second and sixth, having worked to create and operate the visionary new race alongside the indefatigable Fred Lebow, who died in 1994.

Kuscsik and Switzer both later won the New York City Marathon. With Dixon, they will be the guests of honor of the New York Road Runners (NYRR) this week. Switzer, 75, will run the race again, fifty years after sharing its planning, promotion and first six prizes. She’s proud of the fact that she still fits in her original 1972 running t-shirt, adorned in red on white with “Crazylegs Marathon NYC Dept. of Recreation.”

The shirt is part of the story.

Riders on the starting line of the first Mini, June 3, 1972.

Courtesy of Kathrine Switzer/ Carl Byoir Associates

The proposal for a women’s run in New York came from the PR firm working for a new Johnson’s Wax product, a “Crazylegs” branded women’s shaving gel. (It was rumored to be a regular pink-colored men’s shaving cream.) Impressed by the publicity of the Boston Marathon’s first official women’s race in April 1972, they offered sponsorship to the New York Road Runners Club to inaugurate a women’s Crazylegs marathon.

Lebow consulted with Kuscsik and Switzer, two tireless activists who had participated in the Boston Breakthrough for Women. They warned that a full 26.2-mile marathon would make the field very small, as increasing numbers of women were hungry for six-mile opportunities – easily a lap around Central Park.

They were right when 78 women entered and 72 finished. Lebow, a shrewd marketer and publicist, coined the title “Mini Marathon”, referring to the miniskirts that were all the rage at the time. Lebow also came up with the dubious and legal idea of ​​printing bib numbers directly onto the race t-shirt, ensuring that every woman wears it during the race, with maximum sponsor exposure. He didn’t check the one with Kuscsik and Switzer, who were horrified that all riders could be disqualified, under the old-fashioned amateurism no-endorsement rule.

That crisis passed, but Lebow’s other dubious but effective publicity ideas included hiring blonde “bunnies” from the Playboy Gentlemen’s Club to enhance a pre-race photo shoot in tight T-shirts and short shorts.

“It was Fred; he was a male chauvinist who totally supported the women’s movement,” Switzer wrote in his book. marathon runner.

Lebow handed out thousands of race flyers, and he, Kuscsik and Switzer handed them out everywhere, including in hotspot singles bars in Manhattan, where “women thought we were nuts,” Switzer wrote.

For all the comedic missteps, they were making history. The Crazylegs Women’s Mini Marathon was the first open road race for women in the world. There had been women’s road championships or cross-country races in the UK and New Zealand, but the Mini was on a new model, not requiring federation membership, not limited to regular riders of a particular nation or region, but open to all. women. And it was raced on the road, the surface where the amazing, burgeoning future of the racing movement was about to happen.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, when I was living in New York as an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, the Mini was very special to me, a chance to run a road race entirely with other women,” said Julia Santos Solomon last week. “The atmosphere was different, sort of supportive yet competitive. Wherever you were placed, we all felt we were contributing, saying women can do anything, including having their own run around Central Park.

Now a Hudson Valley artist, Santos Solomon will return to Central Park with his knee replaced to compete in the anniversary race. “The Mini has been important in my personal history. I feel I must join in this celebration of her significance to all women over the past fifty years,” she said.

stock photo of the mini 10k
Nina Kuscsik, left, and Kathrine Switzer during a photoshoot before the 1972 Mini.

Courtesy of Kathrine Switzer/ Carl Byoir Associates

The combination of competition, support, advocacy for women and the continued support of NYRR has allowed the Mini to become a powerful event on the annual New York and international racing calendar. As early as 1979, it attracted the greatest long-distance runner in the world at the time, Grete Waitz (Norway), who had five victories. His reign was followed by winners whose names and nationalities testify to the Olympic importance of the race: Anne Audain (New Zealand), Francie Larrieu Smith (USA), Ingrid Kristiansen (Norway), Lisa Martin Ondieki (Australia), Lynn Williams Kanuka (Canada), Judi St. Hilaire (USA), Delilah Asiago (Kenya), Liz McColgan (Great Britain), Paula Radcliffe (Great Britain), Deena Kastor (USA) and Tegla Loroupe ( Kenya), which equaled Waitz’s record five wins.

The race also served as a model for Switzerland’s landmark Avon International Women’s Race Circuit, which from 1978 inducted women from around the world into the newly invented sport of women’s road racing. Other events were born in imitation, including the Dublin Women’s Mini Marathon, dating from 1983, and now known as “an Irish national institution”, with the last pre-Covid field at over 25,000.

Is a record realistic? The 10km world mark was beaten in the New York Mini by Asmae Leghzaoui (Morocco) in 2002, with 30:28.6, still listed as the race record, although it has been questioned by his subsequent disqualification for doping. Central Park’s traditional single loop was replaced this year with a new route that eliminates the unforgiving Harlem Hill halfway through, where construction is underway. With this unexpected bonus, Jepchirchir has the power of endurance and Teferi has the speed to make something big happen.

mini 10k new york 2019
The start of the Mini 10K 2019.

adam hungryGetty Images

Anniversary race rises to prominence as it takes place for the 50th time in Central Park, now one of the largest running venues in the world and the site of millions of miles run by New Yorkers and visitors alike every year.

Jepchirchir, Teferi and Hall, professional athletes wearing crop-tops and expensive high-tech super shoes, will run in the footsteps of Dixon, Kuscsik and Switzer, who ran for absolutely nothing, in their spare time, wearing clothes leather racing shoes. flats and cotton T-shirts.

The three distinguished seniors on the starting line may nevertheless reflect that the new generation is unlikely to match them as history makers.

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