Running boom of the 1970s

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In the United States, there was a boom in the 1970s in competitive road running and in jogging for recreation and fitness. It is estimated that 25 million Americans took up some aspect of running in the 70s and 80s,[1] including President Jimmy Carter.[2] Many running events, shoe and apparel manufacturers grew and formed to accommodate the demand. The boom also occurred in other countries.

1972 Olympic marathon[edit]

Frank Shorter's victory in the men's marathon is credited with inspiring the running boom.[3][4][5][6] He was the third American to win the Olympic marathon, but the first since 1908. The victory was covered by ABC, including dramatic coverage of the finish, when a German imposter ran into the stadium ahead of Shorter.[7] Serving as guest color commentator was writer Erich Segal, who called out over the airwaves (but obviously inaudible to Shorter) "It's a fraud, Frank."[8] In 2000, the Washington Post included the phrase among the ten most memorable American sports calls.[8]

The television story changed the way Americans viewed the sport of long-distance running. According to Joe Muldowney, at the time "most Americans had no idea what the marathon was, let alone its weird 26.2-mile distance. Some folks may have heard of the Boston Marathon, an event that had been held since 1896, but few Americans had the desire to tackle the race itself."[9]

Other factors[edit]

Many factors combined to build momentum for the boom. Other athletes and events before Shorter's victory caused a growth in popularity and recognition. Jim Ryun grew from a top high school runner to an American sports hero and a popular rivalry with Marty Liquori.[10][11][12] Bill Rodgers,[13] Steve Prefontaine[14][15] and his coach Bill Bowerman, even non-American athletes like Lasse Viren were inspirational. Women were just beginning to become accepted as athletes. Road running and marathoning became a place they could excel. Female pioneers including Kathrine Switzer, Jacqueline Hansen and Miki Gorman led other women to believe they could run seriously. Little Mary Decker, Francie Larrieu and Norway's Grete Waitz were all part of a phenomenon that culminated in Joan Benoit's 1984 Olympic Marathon victory, which itself inspired more women to run. Title IX, mandating gender equality, was passed in the United States in 1972, opening up scholastic athletic opportunities for women. Many academic institutions used running sports like Cross Country and Track and Field for women to help numerically offset the number of players on their economically lucrative football teams.[16][17]

Media coverage[edit]

Responsive and supportive to the boom was media coverage.

  • Jim Fixx wrote The Complete Book of Running, which became a best seller.[18]
  • George Sheehan wrote Running and Being a philosophical approach which also became a best seller.[19]
  • Runner's World magazine, launched in 1966 and became a monthly in 1973. Competitors included Running, The Runner and Running Times, which eventually merged in various forms.

Other running authors and writers:

Many new racing events evolved. As technology improved, television coverage of major races eventually included: