Quiet Warrior: 10 things you probably didn't know about Jacqueline Hansen, by M. Nicole Nazzaro, note by Larry Eder


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The picture above shows two of the most important women in the sport of running. To the left, Joan Benoit Samuelson, 1983 Boston champ and 1984 Olympic gold medalist. To the right, Jacqueline Hansen, 1973 Boston champ, former world record holder in marathon, and a major reason why the women's Olympic marathon is part of the Olympics. 

Jacqueline's spirit is infectious. She has a wonderful sense of humor, and her determination is unceasing. 

The article below is written by a long time contributor to American Track & Field, Mary Nicole Nazzaro. Watch for two more of M. Nicole this weekend. 

Quiet Warrior: 10 things you probably didn't know about Jacqueline Hansen

By M. Nicole Nazzaro

Jacqueline Hansen, former marathon world record holder and official starter for the women's elite race for Monday's 117th Boston Marathon, continues to surprise us. She was a member of the first juggernaut of American women who raced the marathon at the elite level in the early 1970's. Along with Nina Kuscsik,Cheryl Bridges, and other trailblazing athletes of that era, she simply didn't buy into the conventional wisdom that women were either incapable of running the distances - or not interesting enough to garner media attention and ticket sales for major events.

She led the charge to get the women's track and field program at the Olympics equalized (not only for the marathon but for the 5,000 and 10,000-meter distances as well). She stood up to then-IAAF president Primo Nebiolo when he told her that women's marathoning would never be a part of the Olympic Games. 

And on Monday, she'll hold the starter's pistol in Hopkinton for the elite women's race, as a generation of women who race for equal prize money and equal billing run for the laurel wreath once again. "Full circle" isn't enough to describe Hansen's journey, because the circles keep on getting bigger, even as they repeat themselves in other sports and other fights for equality.

It may be a testament to just how far the women's event has come, but not one of the five elite American women at this morning's Boston Marathon press conference knew of Hansen's contributions to the event. How surprising is this unassuming, 5'2" Los Angeles native who has quietly reshaped the way we think about women marathoners, even as other advocates for women's running attracted more of the media spotlight? Here are 10 things you probably didn't know about the 1973 Boston Marathon champion.

Hansen had barely heard of Boston before she entered the '73 race. "I'd never heard of these east coast women (running Boston), and I'm not sure I even had heard of the Boston Marathon," she recalls. "I had a teammate from Yale who ran with Laszlo (Tabori, Hansen's coach) and he's the one who told me. I won the Western Hemisphere Marathon, kind of on a lark, and he said, man, you should come with me to Boston!"

She doesn't run any longer - so the Boston Athletic Association is commemorating her 40th anniversary by having her start the women's race. Tradition holds that champions celebrating anniversaries of their Boston wins be offered bibs to run the race. Amby Burfoot (1968, 45th anniversary), and Greg Meyer and Joan Benoit Samuelson (1983, 30th anniversary) will all run on Monday, but Hansen doesn't run any longer. The B.A.A. looked for a way to honor Hansen's legacy even after she told them she couldn't participate in the full race, and invited her to be the official race starter for the women's elite race.

"Leaning in" isn't a new idea. Long before Sheryl Sandberg, Hansen realized the only way for women to gain an equal seat at the table in elite racing was to claim it, insist upon it, and educate people out of their own prejudices. As president of the International Runners' Committee, she led more than a dozen leaders in the running community to lobby for all women's distance events to be accepted into the Olympic Games. "I really believe that if we had not taken the IOC to court with 70 women from 30 different countries signing right to sue letters, I really don't believe it would have happened as fast as it did," she says. "If you have an opportunity to make a difference and a change, it's a wonderful, wonderful opportunity to have."

The rise of Grete Waitz, the eventual 9-time New York City Marathon champion, was the development that most surprised Hansen in elite women's marathoning. Waitz, a track runner, brought speed and track racing tactics to the 26.2-mile event, becoming the sport's first true star. "She was the turning point," Hansen says today. "Before the 1978 New York City Marathon I asked (then-world record holder) Christa Vahlensieck of Germany, who's our competition? Christa was wearing (race) number one, I was wearing number two, and Grete was wearing number two thousand and something. Christa said Grete was our competition, and I said, really?" Yes, really. Both Hansen and Vahlensieck DNF'ed in New York, walked to the finish line, and watched as Grete smashed Vahlensieck's world record by more than two minutes.

She's a coach and health educator in Los Angeles. Hansen spends part of every day at Loyola Marymount University in L.A., where she teaches health education to teacher credential candidates. She coaches adult marathoners, has coached charity runners in the past for Team Diabetes, and coaches the girls' team at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, CA. "I'm usually brought on to build a girls' team where there wasn't one before," she says. She also has three athletes entered in Boston this year.

She pulled a "Brandi Chastain" at the Honolulu Marathon. Back in the early 1970's, women runners contended with less-than-ideal race gear - including a complete lack of sports bras. Hansen used a bikini top to compensate - and won the Honolulu Marathon having tossed off her shirt, because it was so hot that wearing anything more than her bikini top was too uncomfortable.

She worries about the pressures faced by today's elite athletes. Today's athletes deal with pressures perhaps unequaled in the history of the sport: doping, abuse by coaches, and competing for prize money - all developments that come where money and fame are part of the equation. It's a world that was unknown to women of Hansen's generation. "Women on performance enhancing drugs,  women with eating disorders, women being abused by male coaches - I've seen all of that in my lifetime as the stakes get higher and the prize money grows. Those would be major concerns of course. And some of (these issues) are just as true for the men as the women. Hopefully women will learn to take responsibility and behave appropriately and to just to have good self-esteem, good self-efficacy, and self-confidence - to have all three."

She knows the fight for equality is not over. Hansen points out other women's sports that have had to fight for full inclusion in the Olympics, most recently the women's ski jumping community. She points out that press coverage of women's events is still not equal to that of men's events - though she admits it has come a long way since she staged a national 10,000-meter race run in the rain and it was covered in the press as a "wet T-shirt" race - and not in the sports section. "I was so demoralized, you just can't imagine how depressing that was," she remembers.

She's a shrewd strategist who understands that that groups that need to spread the word need to use all of the tools at their disposal to help shift public opinion. She understands that lawsuits aren't always lost, even if they're not won in the courts, because it can shift public opinion. "I was quoted in Sports Illustrated during the lawsuit saying that we were like 'Save the Whales.' Who could oppose us? We were on the right side of the issue."

She's a book author. 

Her personal memoir will be published later this month. For more information, visit her website at  HYPERLINK "http://www.jacquelinehansen.com"www.jacquelinehansen.com

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