Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, skiing star Bjørn Dæhlie and Olympics boss Jacques Rogge were among those honoring Norwegian marathon star Grete Waitz, who died Tuesday morning at Ullevål University Hospital in Oslo. She was 57, and had been battling cancer for years.
“She was one of our foremost athletes who managed an impressive number of presentations,” Stotenberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on the nightly national news program Dagsrevyen. “She was also an important champion for women in athletics and an inspiration for people all over the world.”
Rogge of the International Olympic Committee said the IOC had received word of Waitz’ death “with great sorrow.” He called her “a great Olympian,” who won a silver medal the first time the marathon for women was on the Olympic program in Los Angeles in 1984. “She will be remembered as one of the greatest runners of our time,” he added.
Waitz died with her husband Jack by her side. Her funeral will likely be held next week, after Norway’s lengthy Easter holiday. NRK reported that Waitz only wanted her closest family at her funeral, and family members asked the public to respect her request.
Waitz, who held gold and silver Olympic medals and was famous for winning the New York Marathon nine times, disclosed her cancer diagnosis in 2005 and since had worked actively to help other cancer patients cope with the disease. She and Dæhlie helped launch the foundation Aktiv mot kreft (Active against cancer) and Norway’s cancer association was grateful for her efforts.
In addition to dominating the New York Marathon for many years from the late 1970s until 1988, Waitz won the London Marathon twice (in 1983 and 1986) and the Stockholm Marathon once, in 1988.
Back home in Norway, she was perhaps best-known for launching the Grete Waitz Run in Oslo in 1984, which encouraged thousands of women to start running and get into better physical shape. She was considered a leader in breaking down barriers against women in sports, not least long-distance running, at a time when many believed women shouldn’t push themselves as hard as men physically.
Some of her records in her international competition still hold, for example from when she ran the 1,500-meter race in 4:00.55 in Prague in 1978 and the 3,000-meter event in 8:31.75 i Oslo in 1979.
She was one of Norway’s most famous athletes ever and also won many prestigious honors, including one of Norway’s highest royal orders.
“She was probably one of the best-known Norwegians in the US, for example, not just for her nine victories in the New York Marathon but also for everything she did afterwards,” her former coach Johan Kaggestad told NRK. “She was like a godmother for so many … and she believed that only hard work can get you to your goal.”