Grete Waitz, the Norwegian marathoner who won the New York City Marathon nine times, died today at age 57. She had been battling cancer for the past six years and passed away in Oslo. She won the 1978-80, 1982-86, and 1988 NYC Marathons, leaving the race organizers to call her "The Greatest Champion in New York City Marathon History." Waitz's husband convinced her to enter the race—her first marathon—in 1978; she was expected to be a pace setter, but ended up winning and setting a world record, 2 hours, 32 minutes, 30 seconds.
Waitz, a school teacher who ran the 1,500-meter and 3,000-meter events in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics, said of the 1978 victory, "I came to New York with my husband to celebrate my retirement [from running]. I left for New York determined to continue my teaching and maybe have kids. But, instead, I quit my job teaching and never had kids. I always got excited when I came to New York for the marathon. Winning was a highlight each and every time." She was a familiar face at NYC Marathon events, and, in 1992, NYC Marathon founder Fred Lebow wanted to run the marathon before he succumbed to brain cancer, so Waitz ran and walked the race with him. Waitz called it "the most emotional race of my life... We both ran the last two miles crying."
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."