Starting Line 1928

By Running Historians (Various)

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Starting Line 1928 is an oral history project documenting the lived experiences of female distance running pioneers

Episode Date
17 | Karen Troianello

In 1979, standout 800-meter runner Karen Troianello (Blair) joined a group of women student-athletes and coaches in a lawsuit against Washington State University (WSU), suing over inadequate funding and support for women’s athletics under Washington’s Equal Rights Amendment. By the luck of the alphabet, she ended up being named the plaintiff. Blair vs. Washington State University went to the state Supreme Court, which—in 1987—ruled in favor of Blair, changing college athletics in the state of Washington and nationally.

Dec 01, 2022
16 | Michele Cuke

Michele Cuke's first racing success came at age ten when she won a 600-meter race sponsored by her church. She went on to become one of California’s top high school 800-meter and cross-country runners, then competed collegiately at UCLA. She ran all four years, culminating in setting the 10,000-meter school record and becoming the 1983 NCAA 1500-meter champion. Ultimately, Cuke completed eleven marathons in less than three hours, including eight in less than 2 hours and 45 minutes. To this day, she remains second-fastest on the growing list of American-born Black female runners who have eclipsed three hours in the marathon, thanks to the 2:37:41 she ran at the 1991 California International Marathon.

Nov 17, 2022
15 | Patricia Barrett

1972 was a banner year for American women in athletics, and Patricia Barrett, a high schooler from New Jersey, was at the center of many of the milestones. In January that year, she won her first marathon, the inaugural Jersey Shore Marathon. Then, she was one of the eight women who ran the Boston Marathon that year, the first year female runners could officially enter and receive numbers. That fall, she returned to Central Park for the New York City Marathon, joining Kuscsik and five other women in a 10-minute protest at the start of the race. “I guess I was an activist in a way,” she says. “But I just just loved to [run].”

Nov 03, 2022
14 | Shawanna White

Shawanna White is a semi-professional runner and physical education teacher in Columbia, South Carolina. Nearly every weekend, you can find her on the starting line, racing distances from the mile to the marathon. She’s run more marathons under three hours than any other American-born Black female runner—her current total is 16—and her personal best of 2:45:19 places her eighth on the list of fastest African American marathoners, a list she was instrumental in creating. In 2022, she was inducted into the National Black Distance Running Hall of Fame and featured in the documentary Breaking Three Hours

Oct 20, 2022
13 | Billee Pat Connolly

When 16-year-old Billee Pat Connolly stepped up to the start line of the 800-meter  race at the 1960 U.S. women’s Olympic Track and Field Trials, she had no idea she  would become a part of history in what has now become known as "The Abilene  800," the event that opened the door for women to run longer distances. Connolly went on to become a three-time Olympian, a renowned track and field coach, who coached Evelyn Ashford and Allyson Felix to their own Olympic berths.  

Oct 06, 2022
12 | Julie A. Brown

Julie A. Brown grew up in Billings, Montana, as one of five, and began her running career when she followed in her sister’s footsteps and joined the high school cross-country team. Before long, she was paving her own path. Eventually, she made many US national teams during and after college. She excelled in an impressive range of events—from the 4x400 to the marathon to cross country. Notably, she was the first U.S. woman to win the IAAF Cross Country championships in 1975, ran a 2:26:26 marathon, and qualified for the first-ever women's Olympic Marathon.

Sep 15, 2022
11 | Michele Tiff-Hill

Michele Tiff-Hill grew up in Cleveland, into a very athletic family, but didn’t get into running herself until her late 20s. Instead, she focused on her music career in high school, college, and beyond. She took up running in an effort to simply be more active with all the hours she spent sitting at the piano bench every day. Though she initially did her running in secret, she quickly grew more motivated to improve her race times. She ran her first race, a 10K, in about 52 minutes; eventually, she'd become the first Black woman to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon in 1984, qualifying in a time of 2:50:19 at the 1983 Sri Chinmoy Marathon. Tiff-Hill was recently inducted into the National Black Distance Running Hall of Fame and featured in a documentary about Black women who have broken three hours in the marathon.

Sep 01, 2022
10 | Ann Gaffigan

At the 2004 Olympic Trials, Ann Gaffigan won the 3,000-meter steeplechase and set an American record. But the women’s steeplechase wasn’t yet an Olympic event, so it was only an exhibition event at the trials, and Gaffigan’s win didn’t earn her a ticket to the Olympics. It was the best day of her life, Gaffigan says, and she was proud of what she’d accomplished—but competing at the Olympics had been her childhood dream, and she didn’t get to go, despite the fact that men had been competing in the steeplechase at the Olympics for more than a century.  She channeled her drive to support women and girls in sports into a website called WomenTalkSports and other avenues, including serving on the USATF Athletes Advisory Committee from 2006 to 2019.

Aug 18, 2022
9 | Madeline Manning Mims

While attending Tennessee State University, Mims became the first African-American woman to compete in the 800 meters and the first American to win Olympic gold at the 1968 Games in Mexico City. From 1967 to 1980, she won 10 national indoor and outdoor titles and set several American records. Her fastest 800-meter time, 1:57.9 in 1976, was a long-standing American record in the event. Today, being an “overcomer” informs Mims's work as an motivational speaker and chaplain for the U.S. Olympic team. She is also the founder and president of the United States Council for Sports Chaplaincy.

Jul 21, 2022
8 | Robin Campbell Bennett

Between 1972 and 1976, Robin Campbell Bennett competed in events across the United States, winning and medaling at many of them. In 1974, she set the American Record in both the 600 meter and 1000 meter events. She also competed at the USA vs China Friendship Competition in Shanghai, China in 1975. Then, in 1976 Robin participated as an Olympic Trials Qualifier in the 400-, 800-, and 1500-meter events in Eugene, Oregon. She was also a sponsored athlete of the Puma Track Club, perhaps paving the way for female athletes of today to garner such paid sponsorships.


Jun 16, 2022
7 | Charlotte Lettis Richardson

Charlotte Lettis Richardson begin running in 1971 and competed at the national and international level in distances from the 800 meters to 30K. She started a women’s running club in 1972, won the 1975 L’eggs Mini Marathon, and made the Olympic Trials in the 1500 meters in 1976. She’s also a storyteller who wrote and directed the 2005 documentary “Run Like a Girl.” Richardson currently lives in Sisters, Oregon, where she coaches at Caldera High School. She’s approaching her 50th year in coaching and is also co-founder of the Women’s Running Coaches Collective.

May 19, 2022
6 | Jacqueline Hansen
Jacqueline Hansen is a two-time world record holder in the marathon; she was the first woman to break the sub-2:40 mark with her 2:38.19 world record time.  She is the 1973 Boston Marathon winner, a national collegiate champion in the mile, and a Masters World Champion in the 1500m and 5,000m distances.  As President of the International Runners Committee, she spearheaded a movement to usher the women’s distance events (marathon, 5,000m & 10,000m) into the Olympic Games. 
Apr 14, 2022
5 | Freddi Carlip

“I look back now and I don’t think of myself as a trailblazer. We were setting the standard for other women and encouraging them.”

Freddi Carlip started casually running in 1978 as an outlet from her daily life as a stay-at-home mom to two small children. Little did she know that the healthy activity would soon become her life’s work.

In addition to serving as a founding member of the Starting Line 1928 oral history project, Carlip has served multiple terms as the President of the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA), has been publisher and editor of Runner’s Gazette since 1981, and successfully helped lobby for the inclusion of women’s 5,000 meters and marathon distances in the Olympic Games.


Feb 10, 2022
4 | Alisa Harvey

“I wasn’t known for anything else but my running. That’s what I kind of latched onto. I didn’t have many extras, like summer camps or lots of material goods, but I did have my running and my legs and a TV set and goals.”

Alisa Harvey’s impressive running career spans decades and distances. The first time she qualified for the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials was in 1988, in the 1500 meters, when she was still a student at the University of Tennessee. The last time she did so was in the 800 meters in 2008—at age 42.

In between, she won gold in the 1991 Pan American Games in the 1500 meters. She qualified for the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials by running 2:49:28 in her debut at the distance. And, she’s notched countless victories in road races, including the Fifth Avenue Mile and the Army Ten-Miler. 

At 56, she might no longer be able to match her personal best of 1:59.72 in the 800 meters, but Harvey still competes at a high level, chasing Master’s records on the track and the roads. And, she’s coaching athletes who range from ages 10 to 95, aiming to help them pursue the same long-term success she’s experienced.


Dec 02, 2021
3 | Judy Shapiro-Ikenberry

“They [the men] didn't like it when we beat them, but they were very accepting and very encouraging. It was always the officials that were the problem, you know, and it's just two different classes of people. And they get their kicks from enforcing the rules. We got our kicks from being in shape.”

Judy Shapiro-Ikenberry ran in her first track meet at age 12, and her first Olympic Trials, in the 800 meters, at age 17. She continued to train and took on longer distances while working as a teacher. She won her first marathon, the 1967 Las Vegas Marathon, in 3:40:51, and in 1974 won the first U.S. marathon championship for women in 2:55:18. She later moved to ultrarunning and won the national 50-mile track championship in 1977. In the late 1970s, she and her coach/husband Dennis Ikenberry started Race Central, a race timing company that helped put on some of the biggest races in the U.S. and around the world.

Nov 04, 2021
2 | Marilyn Bevans

"All I can do you know that let people know that Black folks can run—we have been running. I've had calls, people asking me, Marilyn, how can we get more Black distance runners in high school? If you never see any black distance runners, it's hard ... we still have to keep pushing, and you need people that know how to coach distance."

Marilyn Bevans has no regrets. She did what she loved to do and did it on her own terms. In her own quiet way, she became a trailblazer for African-American women and set a standard for grace and decency. In 1977 Track & Field News ranked her the 10th fastest female marathoner in the world. She ran her PR of 2:49:56 at the 1979 Boston Marathon.  In November 2013, she was inducted into the National Black Marathoners Association's Distance Runner Hall of Fame.

Sep 23, 2021
1 | Bjorg Austrheim-Smith

“I was doing it for my own survival, because I was a stay-at-home mom. And I felt that I needed to do something for me, because I felt like my brain was dying. I needed something for me. It just turned out that way, I just didn't know. I was pleased when people would come out and maybe I encouraged somebody else to do that.”

Bjorg Austrheim-Smith, multiple Western States winner, will tell you upfront that her story does not fit the typical narrative. She was a stay-at-home mom who was looking for a way to get out of the house. She ended up as the first three-peat women’s winner of Western States from 1981-83.

Sep 23, 2021
Starting Line 1928: Trailer

The first modern Olympics were held in 1896. Women runners, though? They weren’t called to the starting line until 1928. After made-up reports of women collapsing after the 800 meters, track and field’s governing body eliminated the event after just one try—a change that lasted until 1960. 

It wasn’t the first, and certainly not the last time the story of women’s running was twisted, and athletes’ voices lost. 

Running fans will know some of the stories of women pioneers in the sport: Bobbi Gibb, Joan Benoit, Kathrine Switzer, Wilma Rudolph, and the like. But there are so many more women we don’t hear about at all—and certainly not straight from their own mouths.

Until now. Welcome to Starting Line 1928, an oral history project dedicated to documenting the stories of women’s running pioneers, in their own voices.

In this feed, you’ll hear interviews with women who have made significant contributions to running before the mid-1990s, or who stand out in other ways—such as being the first to compete in the steeplechase. You’ll see a special emphasis on Black women and other runners of color, whose stories have frequently been overlooked. You’ll learn about their victories, and their struggles, large and small—against forces as huge as sexism and racism and as mundane as a lack of women’s running shoes and sports bras.

Our interviewers are freelance historians, called together as a collective to continue work begun in 2013 by Amy Yoder Begley and Gary Corbitt. Our goal is to preserve the voices of these women while they’re still here to share them—and to raise awareness of their contributions among the next generation of athletes. 


Sep 23, 2021