Grete Waitz races to the inaugural World Championship marathon title in Helsinki, 1983 (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Distance running legend Grete Waitz passes away, memorial tribute to be held on 11 May

The IAAF is deeply saddened by the news that Grete Waitz, a legendary pioneer in women's Marathon running, passed away today after fighting a long battle with cancer (19). 

Waitz, who took the gold medal in the Marathon at the inaugural IAAF World Championships in Helsinki in 1983 and the Olympic silver medal over the distance in Los Angeles in 1984, was 57. 

A sporting legend in her native Norway, Waitz was perhaps best known for her streak of four World bests in the Marathon from 1978 to 1983, her five victories at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, and for her record nine victories at the New York City Marathon. 

“One of the brightest flames of the modern athletics era has been extinguished but the heroic deeds of Grete Waitz will live on eternally,” commented IAAF President Lamine Diack. “The dedication, perseverance and fortitude with which Grete carved out her athletics career on the track, across the country and on the road is an example to us all, as is the positive way she tackled the illness that beset her life in recent years. On behalf of the international athletics family I wish to express our heartfelt sorrow at the passing of such a great champion, and offer our sincerest sympathies and condolences to her family and friends.”

'Tribute to Grete 1953-2011'

There will be a Tribute in memory of Grete Waitz at Oslo's Bislett Stadium at 6 p.m. on 11 May. Among those attending will be Norway's Prime Minister who will address the attendees. The event is open to the public and everyone is welcome.


Born Grete Andersen in Oslo, Norway on 1 October 1953, Waitz steadily rose in prominence in her teen years, first with national junior titles in the 400 and 800m, and then with a European junior record in the 1500m. Continuing her rise, she set her first of two World records in the 3000m in 1975, clocking 8:46.6 at an international match in Oslo. One year later she lowered the mark to 8:45.4, again in her native Oslo’s Bislett Stadium, where a statue stands in her honour. 

She improved her personal best over the distance the following year to 8:31.75 when winning the inaugural IAAF World Cup in Düsseldorf. Her final race on the track, again in Oslo, came in June of 1982 where she won the 5000m in 15:08.80, at the time the second fastest time in history. But by this time she was already the finest women's Marathon runner of all time. 

Her debut over the Marathon distance, in New York on 22 October 1978, was nothing short of astounding. Not only did she run away with the victory, she shattered the previous World best by more than two minutes with her 2:32:30 performance. She lowered the World best on three more occasions: to 2:27:33 in 1979 and 2:25:41 in 1980, both times again in New York, and again to 2:25:29 in 1983 when she claimed her first of two victories in the London Marathon. At her second victory in the British capital, in 1986, she produced her ultimate personal best of 2:24:54. 

Waitz completed her final Marathon on 1 November 1992 with her friend and colleague Fred Lebow, the co-founder of the New York City Marathon, to celebrate his 60th birthday. She and Lebow, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in early 1990, crossed the finish line together with a time of 5:32:35.

Her performances in Cross Country were nothing short of legendary. In seven appearances at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Waitz won five gold medals - including four consecutive titles from 1978 to 1981 - and two bronze. 

Her 4:00.55 career best in the 1500m, set in Prague on 1978, still stands as the Norwegian national record.