Ted Corbitt, “The Father of Distance Running”
Ted Corbitt, the grandson of slaves, was the first Black marathoner named to the U.S. Olympic team, finishing 44th in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Corbitt is considered the “Father of Distance Running” in the United States, and for good reason. He ran his first Boston Marathon in 1951, and when he ran his last in 1974 at age 55, his time was only 34 seconds slower than his first race. Corbitt invented many things runners now take for granted, including course measurement and age-group competition. Corbitt’s 1964 book on course measurement set the standards for the sport worldwide and continues to be used today.
Zheng Fengrong first Chinese woman to hold world record in any sport
Zheng Fengrong becomes the first Chinese woman to hold a world record in any sport when she set the high jump world record of 1.77 meters (5 feet, 9 ¾ inches) in 1957. Zheng never competed in the Olympics as the People’s Republic of China boycotted the Olympics from 1952 to 1984. Zheng’s granddaughter, Ninali Zheng, previously known as Nina Schultz, won a silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games for Canada in the heptathlon. But as far back as 2017 she had announced her intentions to compete in the Olympics for her maternal grandparents’ country and live out the Olympic dream her grandmother was unable to fulfill. She was granted Chinese citizenship in April 2021, and finished 10th in the heptathlon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Kathrine Switzer runs the Boston Marathon
In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entrant. During her run, race official Jock Semple attempted to physically pull her from the event, but she was protected by her boyfriend and fellow runner, Thomas Miller, allowing her to finish the race. Women were not officially permitted to run the Boston Marathon until 1972. Switzer would later say: “I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women’s sports back, way back, instead of forward. If I quit, I’d never run Boston. If I quit, Jock Semple and all those like him would win.”
Derartu Tulu and Elana Meyer take victory lap to unite Africa
Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia wins the 10,000 meters at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in a spirited battle with Elana Meyer of South Africa, becoming the first Black African woman to win a gold medal. Tulu and Meyer, who is white, share a hand-in-hand victory lap after the race that many saw as a symbol of hope for a new Africa as apartheid in South Africa was gradually coming to an end. Tulu also won the 10,000m in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics and won the event at the 2001 World Athletics Championships in Edmonton, Alberta, after having a daughter in 1998. After finishing third in the 10,000m at the 2004 Olympics, Tulu won the 2009 New York City Marathon at the age of 37. Tulu has been the president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation since November 2018.
Plaatjes overcomes apartheid in South Africa, becomes champion marathoner
Mark Plaatjes was born under apartheid rule in South Africa and could not compete in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics because South Africa was banned from competition. Plaatjes, who is Black, applied for political asylum in the United States to provide a better life for his daughter. Plaatjes won the 1991 Los Angeles Marathon and was sixth in the 1993 Boston Marathon to qualify for the U.S. team to the World Athletics Championships, receiving his U.S. citizenship three weeks before the Championships began. In Stuttgart, Germany, Plaatjes used a late surge to win the marathon and remains the only American man to win the event at the World Athletics Championships. Plaatjes has 38 career marathon wins.
Bryan Clay represents Hawaii, wins Olympic gold
Bryan Clay, who has a Japanese mother and a Black father, is considered the best track and field athlete from the state of Hawaii. He captured the silver medal in the decathlon at the 2004 Athens Olympics before winning the decathlon at the 2005 World Athletics Championships. He wins gold in the event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, joining an extensive line of American decathlete greats to achieve that feet. He later starts the Bryan Clay Foundation to support students in need and provide opportunities they otherwise would not have.
Sarah Attar opens doors for women athletes in Saudi Arabia
Sarah Attar is the first woman to represent Saudi Arabia in the Olympics when she runs in the heats of the 800 meters at the 2012 London Olympics. Attar was born and raised in the United States but competes for Saudi Arabia as she holds dual citizenship. Attar’s participation prompts Saudi Arabia to create a new women’s division of its national sports federation. Attar also ran the marathon in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. That year, four women athletes, including two track athletes, compete for Saudi Arabia at the Olympics. Qatar and Brunei also send female athletes to the Olympics for the first time in 2012.