It’s time to kick off Round 2 of our search for the Greatest Women’s Runner of All Time with our Heroes division! The ladies in this category of our Women’s Running Bracket inspire runners with their breakthroughs in the face of challenges, both in running and in life.
Before we begin Round 2, let’s wrap up the first round of Heroes match ups, shall we?
The Heroes division had some fierce competition in Round One! All-around athlete Babe Didrikson edged out three-time Olympian and plane crash survivor Betty Robinson 53% to 47%, while “C for Courage” runner Lauren Fleshman beat a pretty courageous lady, 92 year old marathoner Gladys Burrill, by the same margin.
And then there some contests that weren’t so close. Wilma “The Tornado” Rudolph was a heavy favorite, besting marathon pioneer and “See Jane Run” team founder Jacqueline Hansen 87% to 13%. The most lopsided pairing in this division was that of Johanna Olson and Cami Ostman. Olson, the former collegiate standout who recently died from cancer, received 93% of the vote, as compared to globe-trotting runner Olson’s 7%. (Full results of Heroes, Round One)
Enough of that. Let’s get to your second round of voting!
Constantina Diţă vs. Doris Heritage
Diţă is a former Chicago Marathon champion, but she’s most well-known for winning gold in the marathon at the Beijing Olympics and at 38, becoming the oldest Olympic marathon champion in history. Talk about aging well!
After being banned from using her school track because she was a girl, Heritage joined a local running club, setting a national record in the 440-yard dash. She went on to run with the men’s team at Seattle Pacific College, becoming the first woman to run a sub-5 minute mile indoors, and at one point, holding every women’s national and world record from the 440 up through the mile. Heritage won the first five world cross country titles and 14 U.S. track titles in her career.
Johanna Olson vs. Wilma Rudolph
Olson won the 2000 NCAA Division III Championship on the third anniversary of brain surgery. The seven-time All-American continued to grow as a runner after college, competing in two Olympic Trials marathons. In 2009, her brain tumor returned. Olson ran/walked the Twin Cities marathon in October 2012 with friends and family, finishing in 5:09. She passed away in January at just 33 years of age.
An African-American girl born prematurely in the pre-Civil Rights South, Rudolph suffered from polio, forcing her to wear a leg brace until age nine. By the time she was just 16, Wilma earned her first Olympic berth, winning a bronze medal in the 4×100 meter relay in Melbourne’s 1956 Games. Yet the 1960 Rome Olympics are where she truly made her mark. Nicknamed “The Tornado”, she was the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Games. Her 100 meter time was a world-fastest (not counted as a record since it was wind-aided), her time in the 200 meters marked a new Olympic record and her 4×100 meter squad set a new world record as well.
Kathrine Switzer vs. Gordon Bakoulis
Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run Boston with a bib and went on to fight for equality in women’s sports. In 1972, she organized the first women’s-only 10K, known today as the New York Mini. Kathrine became President of the Women’s Sports Foundation and organized the Avon International Marathon for women in 1978. The growing success of that event and the improvements in women’s times bolstered the case for Olympic inclusion. Kathrine led the effort to lobby the International Olympic Committee and in 1981, the Committee voted that the women’s marathon would be added to the lineup for the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
Bakoulis, an elite runner in her own right (5-time Olympic Trials Qualifier), formerly served as editor-in-chief of Running Timesand is the author of three running books. She is also the founding coach of Athena New York women’s running team and the editorial director for New York Road Runners, the organization responsible for the New York City Marathon.
Babe Didrikson vs. Lauren Fleshman
Didrikson’s goal was to the be greatest athlete who ever lived. At a time when competition for women was focused on sports like figure skating and tennis, Babe challenged the idea of female athletes having to be ultra-feminine. She was known for her trash-talking ways and jaw-dropping results, winning the U.S. Olympic Trials track meet singlehandedly, competing in eight events. At the 1932 Olympics, she won gold medals in the javelin and the 80 meter hurdles and a silver medal in the high jump. Babe went on play professional golf, co-founding the LPGA.
Of course she’s one of the women behind Picky Bars and Believe I Am and the author of the always informative and sometimes hilarious site, asklaurenfleshman.com. But what’s really heroic, is that when Fleshman won the 2010 U.S. 5K title, her response to being asked how she did it was, “balls”. In 2012, she was coming off an injury headed into the Olympic Trials and had only been able to run about 15 miles a week and relied heavily on the Elliptigo. Fleshman gave it her all and qualified for the final, breaking 16 minutes.