Olympians Join to Celebrate 40th Anniversary of First U.S. Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials


The Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials first occurred in Olympia, Washington in 1984. Dressed in matching shirts, the women who ran in this historic marathon reunited to celebrate their mark on history. Organized by the Olympic Trials Legacy Committee, the celebration and reunion officially started on May 17, 2024, with a welcome reception and banquet for the Olympic marathon runners.

After the banquet on Friday night, the women gathered Saturday afternoon for the Capitol City Marathon Expo and Meet and Greet at Sylvester Park. Vendors, fans, volunteers and runners, both past and present, came together to celebrate the historic milestone in equality in women’s running. Among them was Gold Medalist, Joan Benoit Samuelson.

Michele Davis (left) and Joan Benoit Samuelson (right) smile at the 40th Anniversary Celebration Banquet in Olympia. Photo credit: Janice Ettle

Olympia Celebrates Global Historic Moment in Women’s Athletics

Laura Killian, a current Olympia resident, stood in line excitedly waiting her turn to speak with a few of the original women runners at Saturday’s meet and greet. Killian watched the Olympic Marathon trials 40 years ago from her high school in Ohio. “It was a huge deal,” Killian shares. “Probably every cross-country girl in the nation knew about it. We were all obsessed with it.”

From left: Laura Killian and unknown pose with the first women’s Olympic Marathon trial runners, Michele Davis and Janice Ettle. Photo credit: Janice Ettle

Olympia was in the spotlight when over 200 women who qualified for the race, came to the city in 1984. The marathon was aired live on ABC World Wide of Sports. Never before had women been allowed to participate in an Olympic marathon. “They were going against this barbaric rule,” Killian recalls. “They smashed through that rule. It was just amazing. These runners were making history.”

Olympic Trailblazers Share their Stories of Running in Olympia 40 Years Ago

While many understood the significance of that first marathon, at the time some of the runners did not. Running was all that was on their minds. Sister Mary is one of those women. She ran the marathon when she was 54 years old, making her 94 years old today. 

Sister Mary (right) signs autographs at Capitol City Marathon Expo and Meet and Greet at Sylvester Park in Olympia. Photo credit: Maggie Jay

Sister Mary sat quietly until she was asked if she realized at the time that she was going to be part of a global historic moment in women’s athletics. She promptly responded.  “I did not realize the significance of it at the time,” she shares. “I mean, I came to run and to run my best. That would have been my motive. I knew there was no way I could win as old as I was. To participate lively was my goal.”

Michele Davis (Burde) ran for two during the first Olympic marathon trials in 1984. Davis qualified for the trials months before. When the time came for her to compete in Olympia, she was four months pregnant. Davis still wanted to run.

Top: Michele Davis ran the first women’s Olympic marathon trials 4 months pregnant. Davis completed the marathon and had a healthy baby boy months later. Bottom: An ambulance follows Michele Davis along the entire route. Photo courtesy: Michele Davis

When doctors told Davis that she shouldn’t run in the Olympic marathon trials, she turned to her husband, who held a Ph.D. in physiology to ask for his advice. “He said as long as I didn’t get overheated or let my pulse get too high, I should be fine,” says Davis. An ambulance followed her the entire race. Five months later she delivered a healthy baby boy. Her son is now over 6 feet tall.

Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials 40th Reunion and Capital City Marathon

Early morning on Sunday, May 19, 2024, the annual Capital City Marathon counted down to its start. As the runners stretched and focused at the starting line, friends, families and strangers lined the sidewalks ready to rally and inspire. Signs outstretched and cameras clicking accompanied cheers of support being shouted into the morning air.

Sister Mary explained the importance of that support for her in that moment 40 years ago. “Both my coach and my family were here on the course,” she shares. “You could tell when they saw me pass how proud and excited they were for me. That meant a lot. Even the little kids came, two generations down.” At 94, she still remembers feeling the moral boost during this historic moment in women’s sports. And in her personal athletic history as well.

Olympia embraced the Olympic marathon competitors in 1984, truly happy to have the women visit and run in the beautiful city. “Everybody in town did something for us,” says runner Christine Newsham (Gonzales). “The town just embraces us and makes us feel so welcome. The town all got involved and treated us like royalty. I was one of the slower people and in most races, you don’t get any recognition. But here everyone was treated like royalty. They embroidered pillow cases with the Olympic rings on them and we all still have them today.”

Feeling the excitement as runners and fans at the starting line of the 2024 Capital City Marathon in Olympia. Photo credit: Maggie Jay

One thing all of the runners recognized was how welcoming the people of Olympia were, both then and now. “It’s fun! We’ve had a blast,” says Sister Mary. “Olympia is a very hospitable community. Whether it’s someone you meet in the hotel or someone you pass as you’re walking. Everyone is very gracious and friendly. Friendly. Helpful. Appreciative.”

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