Grete Waitz

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Grete Waitz
Grete Waitz (NYC Marathon, 2010) 2.jpg
Waitz at the New York City Marathon in November 2010
Personal information
Full nameGrete Waitz
Born(1953-10-01)1 October 1953
Oslo, Norway
Died19 April 2011(2011-04-19) (aged 57)
Oslo, Norway
Height5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)
Weight120 lb (54 kg)
Country Norway
SportSport of athletics

Grete Waitz (née Andersen, 1 October 1953 – 19 April 2011) was a Norwegian marathon runner and former world record holder. In 1979, she became the first woman in history to run the marathon in under two and a half hours. She won nine New York City Marathons, women's division, between 1978 and 1988, more than any other runner in history. She won a silver medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and a gold medal at the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki. Her other marathon victories included winning the London Marathon in 1983 and 1986. She was also a five-time winner of the World Cross Country Championships.

Waitz won 12 World Marathon Majors, the most for any runner.[1]


Born Grete Andersen in Oslo, Norway,[2] Waitz was a talented young runner, but had difficulty in getting her parents to take her potential profession seriously. However, Waitz ran at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich in the 1500 metres, and to support her athletic career she studied at a teachers college.[citation needed]


In her teen years, Waitz won national junior titles in Norway in the 400 and 800 metres. At age 17 she set the European junior record for 1500 m with a time of 4:17 and won a bronze medal at the European Championships in this event in 1974. In 1975 Waitz broke the 3000 metres world record, running 8:46.6 in Oslo. In Oslo a year later she lowered this record with an 8:45.4 effort, then in 1977 she won a gold medal at this distance at the inaugural IAAF World Cup in Athletics meet in Düsseldorf with a personal best time of 8:43.50. Two years later in Montreal she won a silver medal, also in Oslo, she came to her all-time personal best of 8:31.75.

She ran the 1500m in the 1978 European Athletics Championships in Prague on 3 September 1978. The run was won by Giana Romanova (UDSSR) in 3:59.01. Waitz placed 5th, with her career best in the 1500 m 4:00.55. It still stands as the Norwegian national record. Back then it was the 8th best time for the 1500m.[3][4] On 29 August at the Championships, she placed third in the 3000m s, with a time of 8:34.33. The winner was Svetlana Ulmasova with 8:33.16.[5]

New York City Marathon 1978[edit]

It was in 1978 that her association with the New York City Marathon began; she was invited to run there by race co-founder and director Fred Lebow, and in her first appearance she not only won but took a full two minutes off the women's course record. On 22 October 1978, she finished in 2:32:29 more than 9 minutes ahead of Martha Cooksey 2:41:49.[6] Cooksey won the San Diego Half Marathon on 26 Aug in 1:15:04. Her winning time there was a world best.[7] During 1978 the world record in the women's marathon was 2:34:47.5 set on 10 Sep 1977 by Christa Vahlensieck at the Berlin marathon.[8] The world record was broken on 3 Feb 1980 by Joan Benoit with 2:31:23 in Auckland. In 1981, the 1978 NYC course was remeasured and found 151 meters short. She further improved her NYC times with her following win in 1979 and 1980.

According to the Association of Road Racing Statisticans (ARRS) Waitz had a 28 races winning streak from 22 September 1979 with a win in a 10-mile road race in Lynchburg (USA) until 8 June 1981 her win in a 3000m track race in Basel (Switzerland).[9]

Waitz went on to win the race nine times and broke the course record three years in a row. In 1979 she won the NYC marathon in 2:27:33. Gillian Adams was the runner up with 2:38:33.[6] Her winning time in the 1980 edition was 2:25:41, Patti Lyons-Catalano placed second with 2:29:33.[6]

In 1983 she set the world record to 2:25:29, which she ran at London. Besides her marathon victories in New York and the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki, Waitz also won the London Marathon in 1983 and 1986 (the latter in a personal best of 2:24:54), as well as the Stockholm Marathon in 1988 at 2:28:24 (which as of 2011 is still the Stockholm course record for women).[citation needed]

Waitz enjoyed much success on the road at non-marathon distances as well, including a win at the Falmouth Road Race in 1980, four victories at the prestigious 10-km Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, five wins at the L'eggs Mini-Marathon in New York, and world road records at 8 km (25:03), twice in the 10-km (31:16 in 1979, then later to 30:59), 15-km (48:01), and 10-mile distances. She further demonstrated her versatility by successfully competing in cross country, earning two bronze medals (1982, 1984) at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships and winning the gold medal five times, (1978–1981 and 1983), tying her with Doris Brown Heritage for most wins in the history of women's International/World Cross Country Championships.[citation needed]

Her last race was a victory at 5000 metres in Oslo in June 1982, in which her 15:08.80 was the second best in history, falling only a half second short of the world record set three weeks earlier by Mary Slaney.

The only significant award she did not win in her career was an Olympic victory. As an up-and-coming 19-year-old in Munich and then a 23-year-old running the 1500 m in Montreal (the longest event allowed for women in the Olympics up until 1984), she competed, but did not medal, in an event that was far short of her specialty. In 1980, Norway was one of the countries that decided to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. At the 1984 Summer Olympics, she was beaten in the marathon by Joan Benoit, placing second to take the silver medal. In the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea, a bad knee forced her to drop out of the women's marathon just after passing the 18-mile mark. She won a gold medal in the marathon at the 1983 World Championships in Athletics in Helsinki.[2]

Waitz completed her last marathon on 1 November 1992 with her friend Fred Lebow. In celebration of Lebow's 60th birthday, after he was diagnosed with brain cancer in early 1990, they both completed the New York City Marathon with a time of 5:32:35.[10]

Personal bests[edit]

  • 1500 metres – 4:00.55 – Prague – 3 September 1978
  • One mile – 4:26.90 – Gateshead – 9 July 1978
  • 3000 metres – 8:31.75 – Oslo (Bislett) – 17 July 1979
  • 15 kilometres – 47:52 – Tampa, FL – 11 February 1984
  • Marathon – 2:24:54 – London – 20 April 1986[11]

After retirement[edit]

Although not competing at the top level, Waitz still ran in and organised corporate races in which she aimed to give advice and information on distance running and health. She also did charity work, particularly for the CARE International and the International Special Olympics. In June 2005 it was publicly known that she was undergoing treatment for cancer. She also coached Liz McColgan. For more than 25 years, Waitz served as the ambassador for the worldwide JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge Series, promoting health and wellness to full-time workers. She provided regular training and motivational tips.[12] Waitz was also a spokesperson for Avon Products.[13]

In August 2009 it was revealed that Waitz had initiated a co-operation between her old sponsor, Adidas, and the cancer care foundation she started in 2007 – "Aktiv mot kreft" (Norwegian for "Active against cancer"). The co-operation would mean that the cancer care foundation would get 5% of the proceeds from Adidas' sale of their Grete Waitz and Modern Classics collections. This could be as much as NOK 500 million per year, which would go to the establishment of hospital physical training centres and investment in PET-scanners.[14]


Waitz died of cancer on 19 April 2011, aged 57.[15] Waitz was survived by her husband Jack and her brothers Jan and Arild.[16] The Norwegian government later announced she would be buried with government honor at state expense, the sixth woman in Norwegian history to be given this honor.[17] This was equivalent to a state funeral, although in accordance with her family wishes the ceremony was private.[18]


She won 13 out of 20 Marathons. Her 9 NYC Marathon wins, 2 London Marathon wins and 1 World Championship win, makes her the record holder for World Major Marathons.[19]

Waitz is widely acknowledged as helping to promote marathon and long-distance running for women. In Norway she is a sporting legend, with an annual race named after her in her honor. The New York Road Runners club annually sponsors "Grete's Great Gallop," formerly a half-marathon and now a 10K, in her honor.

There is a statue of her in the Norway pavilion in EPCOT at the Walt Disney World Resort. There is also a statue of her outside Bislett Stadium in Oslo, and she has been featured on a set of stamps. In addition, her portrait is featured on the tail of a Norwegian Air Shuttle 787 Dreamliner aircraft (a plane, coincidentally, manufactured in North Charleston, South Carolina, a market where she won the Charleston-area 10km race in 1989).

On 23 November 2008 Waitz was appointed a Knight 1st Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav, bestowed by King Harald V of Norway in recognition of her being an important role model.[20] Waitz received the St. Olav's Medal in 1981 and Medal of St. Hallvard in 1989.


Year Competition Venue Position Event Notes
Representing  Norway
1972 Olympic Games Munich, Germany heats 1500 m 4.16.0
1974 European Championships Rome, Italy 3rd 1500 m 4.05.2
1976 Olympic Games Montreal, Canada semi-final 1500 m 4.04.80
1977 IAAF World Cup Düsseldorf, Germany 1st 3000 metres 8:43.50
1978 World Cross Country Championships Glasgow, United Kingdom 1st
European Championships Prague, Czech Republic 3rd 3000 metres 8:34.33
New York City Marathon New York City, USA 1st Marathon 2:32:30
1979 World Cross Country Championships Limerick, Ireland 1st
IAAF World Cup Montreal, Canada 2nd 3000 metres 8:38.59
New York City Marathon New York City, USA 1st Marathon 2:27:33
1980 World Cross Country Championships Paris, France 1st
New York City Marathon New York City, USA 1st Marathon 2:25:41
1981 World Cross Country Championships Madrid, Spain 1st
1982 World Cross Country Championships Rome, Italy 3rd
New York City Marathon New York City, USA 1st Marathon 2:27:14
1983 World Cross Country Championships Gateshead, United Kingdom 1st
London Marathon London, United Kingdom 1st Marathon 2:25:29
World Championships Helsinki, Finland 1st Marathon 2:28:08
New York City Marathon New York City, USA 1st Marathon 2:27:00
1984 World Cross Country Championships New York, United States 3rd
Olympic Games Los Angeles, USA 2nd Marathon 2:26:18
New York City Marathon New York City, USA 1st Marathon 2:29:30
1985 New York City Marathon New York City, USA 1st Marathon 2:28:34
1986 London Marathon London, United Kingdom 1st Marathon 2:24:54
New York City Marathon New York City, USA 1st Marathon 2:28:06
1988 Stockholm Marathon Stockholm, Sweden 1st Marathon 2:28:24
Olympic Games Seoul, South Korea Marathon DNF
New York City Marathon New York City, USA 1st Marathon 2:28:07
1990 New York City Marathon New York, United States 4th Marathon 2:34:34


  1. ^ Records, Guinness World (11 September 2014). Guinness World Records 2015. Guinness World Records. ISBN 9781908843708.
  2. ^ a b Robbins, Liz; Weber, Bruce (19 April 2011), "Grete Waitz, Marathon Champion, Dies at 57", The New York Times
  3. ^ "Women's 1500m". Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  4. ^ "EM 2014 Guide" (PDF).
  5. ^ "European Championships Handbook" (PDF).
  6. ^ a b c "New York Road Runners Official Race Results". Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  7. ^ "untitled". Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  8. ^ "untitled". Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  9. ^ "untitled". Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  10. ^ "Grete Waits reflects". Daily News. Retrieved 26 April 2014.
  11. ^ IAFF athletes
  12. ^ "JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge website". Archived from the original on 25 March 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  13. ^ Products, Avon. "Grete Waitz, Norwegian American Runner". Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  14. ^ Kristiansen, Wanda (16 August 2009). "Kreftstiftelse kan tjene milliarder med Grete Waitz". Aftenposten (in Norwegian). Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  15. ^ Langset, Kristine Grue; Torgersen, Hans O.; Dragland, Lene Li (19 April 2011). "Grete Waitz er død" (in Norwegian). Aftenposten. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 April 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ "Grete Waitz får begravelse på statens regning" (in Norwegian). Verdens Gang. 21 April 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  18. ^ Berglund, Nina (21 April 2011). "Grete Waitz to receive state funeral". Views and News from Norway. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  19. ^ Records, Guinness World (11 September 2014). Guinness World Records 2015. Guinness World Records. ISBN 9781908843708.
  20. ^ "King's honours to Grete Waitz". Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation/Aftenposten. The Norway Post. 23 November 2008. Retrieved 23 November 2008.[dead link]

Audio interview[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Lyudmila Bragina
Women's 3 000 m world record holder
24 June 1975 – 7 August 1976
Succeeded by
Lyudmila Bragina
Preceded by
Christa Vahlensieck
Women's marathon world record holder
22 October 1978 – 18 April 1983
Succeeded by
Joan Benoit
Preceded by
Joan Benoit
Women's half marathon
world record holder

15 May 1982 – 18 September 1983
Succeeded by
Joan Benoit
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Joyce Smith
Ingrid Kristiansen
Women's London Marathon winner
Succeeded by
Ingrid Kristiansen
Ingrid Kristiansen
Preceded by
Lyudmila Bragina
Lyudmila Bragina
Women's 3000 m Best Year Performance
Succeeded by
Lyudmila Bragina
Yelena Sipatova
Preceded by
Ingrid Kristiansen
Women's fastest marathon race
Succeeded by
Ingrid Kristiansen