Doug Kurtis Column: Grete Waitz Interview
by Doug Kurtis, Apr. 26, 2007
Doug Kurtis Column: Grete Waitz Interview
It’s been seventeen years since Grete Waitz, nine time winner of the New York City Marathon, last ran a competitive race. At last week’s Boston Marathon you would never now it. She still looks as fit and famous as ever. Waitz continues to be a champion for running here in the U.S., as well as back home in Oslo, Norway.
Much is known about her competitive career but she has chosen to be relatively private about her personal life. I had a chance to interview Waitz the day before Boston.
Did you ever compete here? “I dropped out of Boston at 23 miles while still on world record pace. I cramped up and could go any further. “
Do some of your New York City victories stand out more than others? “79 and ‘80 were my favorite years because so many of the others had tough weather conditions. In 1978, I wasn’t taking the race as seriously as I should have. The day before the race I was ice skating on Rockefeller Center’s ice rink.”
“I didn’t consider myself a marathoner the first three years I started competing in them. I still had a love for track races and didn’t carbo load or train like many of the other elite marathoners.” Her longest run before the ’78 marathon was 13 miles.
Did you enjoy representing Norway in the Olympics? “In ’72 I had the most fun because it was just great to be on the team. I was only nineteen and inexperienced, so there was no pressure to win. In 76, 1500 meters was the longest distance and I just hoped to qualify for finals. We boycotted the 1980 Olympics.”
Waitz won the silver medal in 1984 LA Olympic Marathon. She didn’t think it was her best performance but was satisfied to take second. She said, “It was just Joan Benoit’s day.” Unlike the U.S., she didn’t have to run a trials race. Instead she had to meet the Olympic qualifying time.
How are you involved in Grete Waitz Run in Oslo? “My husband Jack and I were very involved in putting on the run. It grew to over 46,000 participants. On the 20th anniversary we decided that it would be the last one. Our running club, Vidar, helped us organize it. “Waitz has been a member of the club since the age of 12. In Norway, if you want to run races you need to be a member of a club. The club system is very common in Europe. Vidar has 8 to 10 coaches to help with track and field events. It has a over 500 members of all ages.
Waitz and her husband spend their winters in Gainesville, Florida. “I find that life is a little quieter slower in Gainesville. There are fewer friends to spend time with, which is fine because my husband has more time to golf.” In Norway, she has more demands on her time and everyone knows her. Although people in her neighborhood are used to seeing her she still notices people recognizing her.
She had a wonderful relationship with New York City Marathon race director Fred Lebow before he died. “We were good friends; he would visit us in Norway. He was a unique person, ahead of his time with many innovative ideas.” That connection continues today. Grete is the chairperson for the New York Road Runners Foundation. Through the NYRR the Foundation establishes and supports running-based physical education programs for children in underserved communities across the United States.
What has been your relationship with Adidas? “I have always been with Adidas. At a recent manufacturer’s seminar, I discovered that I’ve worn almost every model that they’ve manufactured. We’ve been loyal to each other and they are wonderful people to work with. “
Runners visiting the Norway exhibit at Epcot Center in Disney World might notice the statue of Waitz in front of the pavilion. “The statue is a replica of the one in front of Bislett Stadium which was unveiled by the Queen of Norway.” Norway also honored Waitz with a set of stamps.
How have you managed to maintain a great relationship with Jack when you have so many obligations to fulfill? “We have the same interests and he’s very supportive. It might have been tougher if he was a serious competitor. It worked better to have him as my coach. We’ve been married happily for 32 years.
Waitz said she no longer desires to compete and his happy to rest on her accomplishments. She still runs four or five times a week and likes to break a sweat doing some kind of exercise every day.
Her two brothers and sister in law did the New York City Marathon last year. One brother has done it twenty seven times. She waits for them at the finish line.
For the record, Waitz also won the London Marathon twice (in her PR of 2:24:54) and the Stockholm marathon. After a successful track career which included a world record for 3000 meters, Waitz almost gave up her running career but instead launched it when she ran New York in 1978. In her first effort she knocked 2 minutes off the world record with a 2:32:30. She lowered the world record in the marathon nine times. Other successes included winning Atlanta’s Peachtree 10km four times, the IAAF World Cross Country championship five times and held the world record for 8km, 10km, 15km and 10 mile.