The Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, December 11, 1928
The 1928 Olympics were the first to host women in track and field races. Before this, women had competed in Olympic sports like figure skating, swimming, diving, archery, tennis and golf, but the decision to allow women to run was controversial – it was said that athletics of this sort would make women more “masculine” and possibly even ruin their ability to become mothers in the future. Nevertheless, the track competitions were added to the women’s program, and ten percent of athletes competing in 1928 were women.
On August 2, the 800 metre race was ran by Kinue Hitomi (the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic medal), Elfriede Wever,
Marie Dollinger, Gertruda Kilosówna, Bobbie Rosenfeld, Florence MacDonald, Inga Gentzel, Jean Thompson and Lina Radke. Lina Radke placed first, and so the story goes, 5 or 6 of her competitors collapsed to the ground. Some reporters claimed some of the girls were senseless and some unconscious, or alternatively, rolling about; that Florence MacDonald of Boston (who finished 6th) had to be “worked over” for fifteen minutes before she was able to stand again. It probably didn’t help that August 2 the American team suffered the worst day in their Olympic history yet – not winning a single medal.
By August 7th, the 800 metre race had the IAAF (International Amateur Athletics Federation), which met in Amsterdam following the games, debating whether women should be allowed to compete at the Olympics at all. Other incidents that contributed to the debate were two false starts by a Canadian woman competing in the 100 yard dash, which allegedly left her crying, and a German woman shaking her fist in the face of the starter who disbarred her.
Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Hungary and Finland wanted women out of the Olympics entirely. America, Japan, Austria, Belgium, South Africa, Australia, Denmark, Poland, Greece, Holland, Estonia, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and France voted to keep women’s sports in – with some changes.
American delegates suggested 10 categories for women to compete in, but only 6 were accepted (discus, javelin, 100-metre flat, 400-metre relay, high jump and 80-metre hurdle made the cut). Shot put, the 200-metre dash, the broad jump, and, of course, the 800 metre race, were out.
Still, as the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics approached, it was suggested that women should not be training and should certainly not be competing. It was believed that track and field athletics, aside from being “dangerous” to women’s delicate internal organs, were also frivolous – women’s athletics should be of the type that “planned to develop feminine qualities including gracefulness in speech, dress and character”. Lina Radke was defended by Dr. Bergmann, who told the press she still sewed, cooked and kept house, besides breaking world records.
It took 32 years for the 800 metre race to come back as a women’s Olympic competition; in 1960 Liudmyla Lysenko won gold in the newly returned race in Rome.