Who Says Women Can't Run That Far?
by Bethany Maines
It’s Olympics time again. To me the Olympics always represent passion, competition, the wonder of the human body, and the indomitable human spirit. And of course, the Three Stooges.
When I was a kid my family didn’t own a TV (yes, I lived in the Jurassic Era) and we would rent one just for the Olympics. I remember that coverage started at 2pm and from then until about midnight we could turn on the set and watch the magnificence of Sport. We would promptly become engrossed in the minutiae of steeple chase, rowing, archery or whatever other sport was on that day. We would debate passionately over the merits of athletes and sports that moments before we hadn’t even heard of. Practically the only thing that was agreed on in the Maines house was that Rhythmic Gymnastics, while attractive in away, was not a sport.
During those years my father was attempting to qualify for the Olympic women’s marathon. Not that he had any gender confusion, but he was a running enthusiast and when the very first women’s Olympic marathon qualifying time was announced he thought that the time was almost within his reach and he made it his goal. And yes, you did read that correctly; I did say the “very first” qualifying time. Until the 1984 Olympics there was no women’s Olympic marathon, and for much of the history of Olympics women were thought to be incapable of running that distance. My family actually traveled down to Oregon to watch the Olympic qualifying run of women marathoners for the ’84 Olympics Team. Sports can be about more than just scoring points and sometimes just running is a political statement.
The 1984 Olympics also marked a first of another kind. I persuaded my mom to let me camp out in the living room with the TV and I woke up early and found a show on the television that I had never seen before. One man made funny noises, that one hit the bald one, and that one tried to poke the other one in the eye. They were HILARIOUS. At least, that’s what I told my mom. Sadly, my mother apparently didn’t appreciate their hilarity, or my loud laughter, at six in the morning and I was banished back up to my bedroom.
Those halcyon days were too good to last; soon broadcasters decided to add less coverage of fewer sports with double helpings of schmaltz. For a few years we were able to stave off the incredible crap of the American Olympics by watching the Canadian coverage (a benefit of living in a border state), but sadly with each Olympics the broadcasters get a little more savvy about how to make us watch more commercials and less events. Which is not to say that there haven’t been some improvements – NBC showed the women’s marathon in its entirety. This year it was won by Ethiopian Tiki Gelena in 2 hours 23 minutes and 7 seconds. That’s a new Olympic record.