Athletics-Norwegian marathon great Waitz dies at 57


Tue, 19 Apr 16:01:00 2011

* Former world record holder succumbs to cancer

* Norwegian remembered as women's marathon pioneer

Norwegian Grete Waitz, a pioneer of women's marathon running and former world record holder, has died at the age of 57 after a long battle with cancer.

"One of the brightest flames of the modern athletics era has been extinguished but the heroic deeds of Grete Waitz will live on eternally," IAAF President Lamine Diack said in a statement.

"The dedication, perseverance and fortitude with which Grete carved out her athletics career on the track, across the country and on the road is an example to us all, as is the positive way she tackled the illness that beset her life in recent years," Diack added.

Waitz won the inaugural world marathon title in Helsinki in 1983 and a year later took Olympic silver in Los Angeles, the first time the event was included in a Games for female runners.

She won her first New York City marathon in 1978, setting a world best time before winning the race a further eight times. Waitz also won the London marathon in 1983 and 1986, setting world records on each occasion.

"Grete Waitz was one of a kind," Norwegian Athletics Federation president Svein Arne Hansen said on Tuesday. "To me, she was also the greatest athlete we've had in Norwegian history."

American Joan Benoit Samuelson, who pipped Waitz to Olympic gold in 1984, paid tribute to a "friend, mentor and role model."

"She was the queen of Norway and the queen of hearts in sports," she told Reuters.

"I will always remember her graciousness, goodwill and as a competitor. It is a huge loss," Samuelson said of Waitz, who served as the godmother for Samuelson's son Anders in a special Norwegian christening ceremony.

Current marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe remembered Waitz as "an inspirational athlete and someone who I was proud to call a friend."

"Grete has not only left an impact on the running world she has left a lasting impression on anyone who had the privilege to meet her," the Briton told Reuters.

Fellow Norwegian running pioneer Ingrid Kristiansen recalled Waitz's fortitude.

"She showed that we can come from Norway and assert ourselves internationally in running although there is snow here six months a year," the former world 10,000 metres champion told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

"I was sad about what happened, but we have been well prepared as she has been sick a long time," Kristiansen said. "As she herself said, she lived on borrowed time."

Waitz ran her final marathon in November 1992 with New York city marathon co-founder Fred Lebow to celebrate his 60th birthday. She and Lebow, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in early 1990 and died in 1994, crossed the finish line together with a time of 5:32:35.

"We will forever celebrate Grete in our hearts and as an inspiration and role model for women's running," New York Road Runners chief executive Mary Wittenberg, who oversees the New York marathon, said in a statement.

"If Grete had to go, it is somehow fitting that she lived until the day after one of the greatest weekends in the sport of marathon running.


Not already a Yahoo! user ? to get a free Yahoo! Account