Grete Waitz, the Norwegian runner who won nine New York City Marathons and the silver medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, died in Oslo yesterday after a six-year battle with cancer. She was 57.
A former Oslo schoolteacher, Waitz won her first New York City Marathon in 1978, setting a world best in 2hr 32min 30sec in her first attempt at the distance. She went on to win the event eight more times over the next decade, with her last victory coming in 1988.
She was successful in the London Marathon twice, in 1983 and 1986, and earned five titles at the world cross-country championships, from 1978 to 1981 and and in 1983.
Waitz also won the gold medal in the marathon at the 1983 world championships in Helsinki, Finland. A year later, she took second behind Joan Benoit in the first women's Olympic marathon.
Waitz competed at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics in the 1500 metres, but missed the 1980 Moscow Games because of the US-led boycott.
The Norwegian Athletics Federation president, Svein Arne Hansen, said: "Grete is, in my eyes, one of the greatest Norwegian athletes of all time. Not only through her performances in the sport, but also as a role model for women in sports."
In a Twitter posting, the women's marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe remembered Waitz as "an amazing champion and more amazing person."
Helle Aanesen, the manager of the Active Against Cancer Foundation in Norway who announced Waitz's death, said a private funeral ceremony was planned for next week.
Waitz is survived by her husband, Jack, and her two brothers, Jan and Arild.
She had never run a marathon when she started the New York City race in October 1978. Her husband, Jack, had talked her into trying, but after about 30km (just under 19 miles) she regretted it. "I was hurting. I was mad. I was angry. I told Jack: 'Never again'," Waitz recalled in 2008.
She broke the world record three more times: in New York in 1979 and 1980 and in London in 1983.
Waitz started undergoing cancer treatment in 2005 but rarely discussed her condition in public. "That's not my personality," she said in November 2005. "I've always been a private person. I'll do that when I cross the finish line and win this race."
At the time she was optimistic she would recover. "I'm crossing my fingers," she said. "I will beat it."
Like Waitz, Aanesen declined to specify which type of cancer she had. "She didn't wish to put too much focus on herself and her disease, but hoped she could contribute in some way to help others," said Aanesen, who got to know Waitz through her work with the foundation.
"She was a fantastic and immensely successful sports practitioner and also a role model and pioneer in women's sports," Aanesen said. "She showed that women too can run longer distances than 1,000 metres."
* Grete Waitz won nine New York Marathons and also two London Marathons, while her national 1500m record has stood for 33 years.
* The Norwegian won gold at the 1983 world championships in Helsinki and silver at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
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