Waitz dies at 57 after cancer battle
Grete Waitz, a Norwegian runner who won nine New York City Marathons and the silver medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, has died after a six-year battle with cancer. She was 57.
Helle Aanesen, the manager of the Active Against Cancer Foundation in Norway, said Waitz died early Tuesday at the Ulleval University Hospital in Oslo.
A former Oslo schoolteacher, Waitz won her first New York City Marathon in 1978, setting a world best in 2 hours, 32 minutes, 30 seconds in her first attempt at running the distance. She went on to win eight more times — more than any other runner, male or female — with her last victory coming in 1988.
She won the London Marathon twice, in 1983 and ’86, and earned five titles at the world cross country championships from 1978-81 and 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 1,500 meters, but missed the 1980 Moscow Games because of the American-led boycott.
“Grete is in my eyes one of the greatest Norwegian athletes of all time,” Norwegian Athletics Federation president Svein Arne Hansen said. “Not only through her performances in the sport, but also as a role model for women in sports.”
In a Twitter posting, marathon world record-holder Paula Radcliffe remembered Waitz as “an amazing champion and more amazing person.”
Aanesen said a private funeral ceremony is planned for next week, according to Waitz’s wishes.
Waitz is survived by her husband Jack Waitz and her two brothers, Jan and Arild.
Waitz had never run a marathon when she started the New York City race in October 1978. Her husband had talked her into trying, but after about 18 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 ’80 and in London in ’83.
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 could conquer the disease.
“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 meters.”
Malin Rising in Stockholm contributed to this report.