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Joyce Smith won the London Marathon in 1981 at the age of 43 – but there was more to her than marathons. Adrian Hill reports


I


f Paula Radcliffe is the Queen of British women’s distance running then Joyce Smith must be considered the Grande Dame. In many ways the 1981 London


Marathon winner was a runner before her time. At the peak of her powers, in the 1960s and early 1970s, the concept of female athletes running further than 1,500m was frowned upon. Her track career could well have delivered more than a bronze medal in the 3,000m at the 1974 European Championships had the authorities been bold enough to allow women to compete over the longer distances. Smith’s running style and character


was ideally suited to a long slog rather than a sprint. By the time it became


46 n RUNNING FREE


fashionable for women to run marathons Smith was a veteran, but it is to her eternal credit that she won in London (the inaugural race through the streets of her home city) at the age of 43, 30 years after she started out in athletics.


Cross Country Champ Smith won back-to-back English National Cross Country titles in 1959 and 1960, but with women only permitted to race up to 800m on the track at that time her enthusiasm waned and she gave up competing for a few years. She returned


in 1967 to take part in the international cross country race for women, finishing fourth. Smith had her eyes on the track, as the 1,500m and then, in the mid-1970s, 3,000m were coming on to the programme at the European Championships and Commonwealth Games.


The glass ceiling She reached the semi-finals of the 1,500m at the 1972 Munich Olympics, breaking the British record in the process, but sadly the powers-that-be decided not to follow the example of the


OLDEST WINNER IN TOWN


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