Today, cancer took one of the best marathoners in history, Norwegian runner Grete Waitz. She died today. Waitz was only 57.
Her legacy is not in how many Olympics she won, as her best was a silver medal in Los Angeles. Her legacy, instead, is what she accomplished on the world stage of road racing, like the NYC and London Marathon. She ran hard, she ran well and she did it often.
Below are her PRs and bio from Wikipedia.
1500 metres - 4:00.55 - Prague - 03/09/1978
One mile - 4:26.90 - Gateshead - 09/07/1978
3000 metres - 8:31.75 - Oslo (Bislett) - 17/07/1979
15 kilometres - 47:52 - Tampa, FL - 11/02/1984
Marathon - 2:24:54 - London - 20/04/1986
In her teen years, Waitz won national junior titles in Norway in the 400 and 800 meters. At age 17 she set the European junior record for 1,500 meters with a time of 4:17, winning a bronze medal at the European Championships in this event in 1974. In 1975 Waitz broke the 3000 metres world record, running 8:46.6 in Oslo. In Oslo a year later she lowered this record with an 8:45.4 effort, then in 1977 she won a gold medal at this distance at the inaugural IAAF World Cup in Athletics meet in Düsseldorf with a personal best time of 8:31.75. Her 4:00.55 career best in the 1500m, set in Prague on 1978, still stands as the Norwegian national record. Her final track race was a victory at 5,000 meters in Oslo in June 1982 where her 15:08.80 was the 2nd best in history, falling only half a second short of the women's world record set three weeks earlier by Mary Slaney.
It was in 1978 that her association with the New York City Marathon began; she was invited to run there by race co-founder and director Fred Lebow and in her first marathon effort not only won but took a full two minutes off of the women's world record. She went on to win the race nine times and broke the world record three years in a row. In all, she lowered the women's world record by an astonishing nine minutes, taking the standard from Christa Vahlensieck's 2:34:47 down to 2:32:30 (1978), 2:27:33 (1979), 2:25:41 (1980), and finally to the 2:25:29 that Waitz ran at London in 1983. Besides her marathon victories in New York and the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki, Waitz also won the London Marathon in 1983 and 1986 (the latter in a personal best of 2:24:54), as well as the Stockholm Marathon in 1988 with a 2:28:24 (which as of 2011 is still the Stockholm course record for women).
Waitz enjoyed much success on the road at non-marathon distances as well, including a win at the Falmouth Road Race in 1980, four victories at the prestigious 10K Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, five wins at the L'eggs Mini-Marathon in New York, and world road records at 8K (25:03), twice in the 10K (31:16 in 1979, then later to 30:59), 15K (48:01) and 10 mile distances. Waitz further demonstrated her versatility by successfully competing in cross country, earning two bronze medals (1982, 1984) at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships and winning the gold medal five times, (1978-1981 and 1983), tying her with Doris Brown Heritage for most wins in the history of women's International/World Cross Country Championships.
The only significant award she did not win in her storied career was an Olympic victory. As an up and coming 19 year old in Munich and then a 23 year old running the 1,500 meters in Montreal (the longest event allowed for women in the Olympics up until 1984) she competed but did not medal in an event that was far short of her specialty. In 1980, Norway was one of the countries that decided to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. At the 1984 Summer Olympics she was beaten by Joan Benoit and placed second to win the silver medal in the marathon. In the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea, a bad knee forced her to drop out of the women's marathon just after passing the 18 mile mark. She did win a gold medal and attained the title of world champion, however, when she won the marathon at the 1983 World Championships in Athletics in Helsinki.
Waitz completed her final marathon on 1 November 1992 with her good friend Fred Lebow. In celebration of Lebow's 60th birthday, after he was diagnosed with brain cancer in early 1990, they both completed the New York City Marathon with a time of 5:32:35.