“Yesterday’s child”: Women’s running, Mary Decker, and Cold War politics in the twentieth century
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Sports can represent a myriad of personal, national, and international hopes and fears, and, by the middle of the twentieth century, women’s running in the U.S. held such a role. The rise of the Cold War and resulting fears of insurgency lead to the development of presidential media campaigns focused on the health of Americans and dual track meets. As the U.S. attempted to display its physical prowess, U.S. neglect women’s athletics emerged instead, and policymakers sought to remedy the situation. Cold War politics created a need for a superior female athlete who could serve traditional gender roles while also representing U.S. superiority. Pioneering feminist runners attempted to resolve the demand and carve out their place in women’s running in the 1960s, but their progress was slow as their approach polarized regulatory organizations and public perception. Other female athletes emerged during the running boom of the 1970s, finding different levels of fame, but it would be Mary Decker who encompassed the image of the vulnerable yet athletically talented runner to become the country’s great hope against Soviet Union Track and Field.