Bobbi Gibb and Kathrine Switzer
In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially complete the Boston Marathon when she crossed the iconic finish line on Boylston Street. 50 years later, on this year’s Marathon Monday, Switzer ran again, sporting the same #261 race bib that she wore half a century earlier. Naturally (and deservedly), in the days leading up to the marathon, Switzer’s story made waves across national news sources. Her courage and importance to the sport of long distance running cannot be doubted.
Another female runner deserves this same admiration, for she helped pave the way for Switzer’s historic finish by running the Boston Marathon a year earlier. Bobbi Gibb unofficially ran the fastest female times for the Boston Marathon in 1966, 1967, and 1968. In 1966 Gibb defied female-athlete stereotypes by clocking an unofficial time of 3:21.40, a seriously fast time for the era. Perhaps even more remarkable was Gibb’s sheer determination to run the race. Despite the sanctions in place preventing the participation of female runners, Gibb hid in bushes close to the starting line and darted out into the masses of runners shortly after the starting gun sounded. Once she took off from her hiding place, she never looked back.
While she initially donned a blue hoodie in order to conceal her gender, her cover was soon blown. But rather than be mocked or thrown out of the race, Gibb remembers feeling uplifted as competitors and spectators alike heartily cheered her on.
This year’s marathon saw Edna Kiplagat, a Kenyan, take the women’s title in a time of 2:21.57, nearly a full hour faster than Gibb ever ran. And yet, if not for pioneers like Bobbi Gibb and Kathrine Switzer, Kiplagat might have instead had to watch the marathon online or from the stands at Copley Square; she might not have been able to break the finishing tape herself.
We owe a deep debt of gratitude to heroes such as Switzer and Gibb, and all those who dare to push boundaries and cross lines in the name of progress.
(Overhead picture: The first lady of Boston: Gibb finishing the 1966 marathon. PC: Fred Kaplan)