Grete Waitz, described as the first lady of the marathon and one of the last century's greatest athletes, died Tuesday in Oslo, Norway.
According to news accounts, the 57-year-old had been diagnosed with cancer in 2005.
A world-record holder in the 3,000 meters, Waitz ran to the forefront of women's athletics in the 1978 New York City Marathon. She reportedly had never trained beyond 16 miles and entered at the urging of her husband, Jack.
Motivated in part by anger at her struggle in the race, she set a world record 2:32:30 and won her first of nine New York City Marathon crowns.
Her victories helped inspire other female athletes and exorcise the misguided notion that women were not strong enough for the marathon.
"She was the first lady of the marathon. She was such a wonderful lady, such a wonderful ambassador for women's marathon running back when it was just starting to be recognized as a serious event," said Rob de Castella, a world champion marathon runner from Australia who had trained with Waitz.
The New York Times obituary quotes one of Waitz' successors, Deena Kastor:
“What is even more impressive than her racing was her dedication to this sport after her competitive days were over. She had a huge influence on inner-city schoolchildren in New York and was committed to sharing the benefits of running with the kids.
"Our sport was better because of her, and the adults and children who were fortunate enough to meet her have been touched by an influence that is bound to inspire success.”