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Avon, Women & the Olympics: Driving a Marathon Revolution

The Evolution of the Olympic Marathon for Women

Avon, Women & the Olympics: Driving a Marathon Revolution

The Evolution of the Olympic Marathon for Women

Published 07-31-12

Submitted by Avon Products, Inc.

The mission of Avon Products, Inc. is built upon a commitment to women’s empowerment, but few realize that Avon was the catalyst for a very specific event:  the women’s Olympic Marathon.

This year’s Olympic Games include women athletes from Saudi Arabia for the first time – news that even The Wall Street Journal saw fit to publish -- but it was not long ago that all women were barred from many competitions, including the marathon. Then Avon came calling and helped change the face of women’s running.

Kathrine Switzer Breaks the Barrier

As marathons rose in popularity for men in the late 20th century, common belief held that women could not run 26.2 miles or, if they attempted the distance, it would endanger their health (causing sterility among other issues). Enter Kathrine Switzer, who officially ran the men-only Boston Marathon in 1967 (as KV Switzer) and was, in her own words, “radicalized” when race officials attempted to drag her from the course.

Galvanized by this experience, by 1972 Switzer had helped create the first women-only 10K race in New York City, which attracted 78 women – a surprising number 40 years ago.  This was also the year of the Title IX Amendment in the United States, a watershed equal rights Constitutional Amendment best remembered for ensuring women equal access to sports.

A revolution had begun.

Elite Runners in New York 1999In 1976, Avon executives met Switzer at a women’s sports event and tapped her to develop programs to empower women through sports, adding a new layer to the company’s commitment to women’s economic opportunity.  In 1977 the all-women Avon Futures Tennis Circuit launched, followed by the Avon International Women’s Marathon in Atlanta in March 1978, with runners from nine countries.

That same year, Avon Women’s Running Events launched in Japan and Belgium, and quickly expanded to 27 countries on five continents. From the start, the Avon Running series culminated in an annual global marathon with the winners of each country’s race plus top women runners from around the world, all brought to the event at Avon’s expense.

In fact, in his book Olympic Marathon, Charlie Lovett affirmed “Avon races brought international attention and participation to the sport.” The Avon Women’s Marathons broke barriers by giving talented women runners' confidence, opportunity and exposure, proving they could do it.

The Avon Championship Marathon

London hosted the Avon Championship Marathon in 1980 – the first time London streets were closed for an athletic event – and the time was right to push for more. The Avon Championship Marathon had surpassed the criteria of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that any new sport draws participants from at least 25 countries on three continents. Switzer supported the Los Angeles Olympic Committee in developing the pitch for the IOC to launch the women’s marathon in 1984, including medical reports to dispel lingering claims that marathons are harmful to women.

LA 1984: U.S. runner Joan Benoit wins the first Olympic Marathon for women, making a dramatic solo entry into a packed stadium for the final lap of the event.

As described by Benoit to The Chicago Sun-Times in 1998, she “used the original Avon women's running series as a springboard to a place in history as the gold medalist in the first Olympic Marathon for females. ‘Due in no small part to the (Avon-sponsored) marathons, the (International Olympic Committee) took a long, hard look at women's distance running and to my luck instituted the marathon in 1984’.”

Today, both elite and amateur women participate in marathons worldwide.

But 28 years ago, new ground was broken and a 27-year-old from Maine, U.S.A. showed the world just how far women can run...with a little help from Avon.

Learn more on Avon's Calling.

About Avon Products, Inc.

Avon, the company for women, is a leading global beauty company, with over $11 billion in annual revenue.  As the world's largest direct seller, Avon markets to women in more than 100 countries through approximately 6.4 million active independent Avon Sales Representatives.  Avon's product line includes beauty products, as well as fashion and home products, and features such well-recognized brand names as Avon Color, ANEW, Skin-So-Soft, Advance Techniques, Avon Naturals, and mark.  Avon’s commitment to corporate responsibility encompasses three pillars:  empowering women, sustainability and philanthropy. Learn more about Avon and its products at

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Avon Products, Inc.

Avon Products, Inc.

Avon Products, Inc. recognized the beauty of "corporate responsibility" nearly a century before the term became part of the cultural lexicon. From the very beginning, in 1886, forward-thinking Avon founder David H. McConnell committed his company "to meet fully the obligations of corporate citizenship by contributing to the well-being of society and the environment in which it functions" - words that still guide the company more than 125 years later.

Avon is committed to the mission to "do well by doing good," managing its business enterprise to the highest standards while leveraging its unique capacity to mobilize and engage people to be agents of change in their lives, communities and the world.

Avon's Corporate Responsibility reflects the three pillars of Avon's corporate mission and drives the focus of the company's corporate responsibility efforts and achievements:

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