Michiko or “Miki” Suwa Gorman—a two-time Boston and New York City Marathon winner —died at the age of 80 on Sept. 19 in Bellingham, Wash., after a five-year battle with cancer. Her daughter Danielle Mika Nagel announced Gorman’s death this week via blog.
Before Joan Benoit Samuelson and Grete Waitz gained fame and became icons in women’s marathon running, Gorman, a Japanese-born American, was a pioneer for American women marathoners throughout the 1970s. She was the only woman in history to have won both the Boston and New York City marathons twice and one out of two female runners to win Boston and New York City in the same year.
“2:39 was a significant number in our home. It was my mom’ s best time when she won the New York City Marathon,” wrote Nagel in her blog post recounting the days leading up to her mother’s death.
That was 1976, Gorman’s first New York City Marathon win and PR of 2:39:11. At the time it was the second fastest women’s marathon time following fellow marathoner and friend Jacqueline Hansen’s world-record of 2:38:19 set in 1975 at the Oregon Track Club Marathon in Eugene. She won the New York City Marathon again in 1977, to go along with Boston Marathon wins in 1974 and 1977.
Originally, Gorman started running to add weight to her small 5-foot, 87-pound frame at the age of 34, about six years after she had moved to the U.S. Four years later in 1973, she set an unofficial world best marathon time of 2:46:36 at the Western Hemisphere Marathon (now the Culver City Marathon).
During a time when women’s distance running events were largely inaccessible and rarely recognized—it wasn’t until the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles that the women’s marathon event would be introduced, highlighted by Samuelson’s historic win—Gorman’s accomplishments helped carve out a space for other competitive female runners to confidently break down the social barriers represented in women’s sports.
Due to injuries, Gorman quit marathons in 1978 and moved to Vancouver, then Carlsbad, Calif., with her daughter who is now a prominent international yoga instructor.
Since then she’s been inducted into the USATF Hall of Fame (1996), the Road Runners Club of America Hall of Fame (2001), the National Distance Running Hall of Fame (2010), and the New York Road Runners Hall of Fame (2012). In 2009, Gorman was honored with “Runner of the 1970s” title by NYRR.