Yuko Arimori

"Avon's financial backing and worldwide reach were a major reason the women's marathon became an official event in the Olympic Games," said Kathrine Switzer, the program director of Avon Running, original creator of the circuit and the woman who broke the gender barrier at the Boston Marathon in 1967. "Now that the distance events for women are in the Games, we want to give women the avenues to get there, and at the same time take running and walking to women who never before had the opportunity."

"Avon's early commitment to women's running and the marathon helped pave the way for me, and other women, to the first Olympic Women's Marathon," said Joan Benoit Samuelson, Gold Medalist in the inaugural 1984 Olympic Women's Marathon and current U.S. record holder. "Avon's desire to continue with its running sponsorship will undoubtedly help the next generation of female runners, just as it helped me."

In attendance at the Avon launch were Jackie Joyner-Kersee, three-time Olympic Gold Medalist and widely regarded as the "world's greatest female athlete; Samuelson, who ran the Avon International Marathon in both 1980 and 1981, and three-time Avon Champion Lorraine Moller from New Zealand who also won the Bronze Medal in the 1992 Olympic Marathon. Other champion runners included Olympic Silver Medalist and nine-time New York City Marathon champion, Grete Waitz, from Norway; Russian Valentina Yegorova, who won the Gold and Silver Medals in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Marathons, and her fierce rival in both of those races, Yuko Arimori, from Japan who took Silver and Bronze behind Yegorova.

Other notables attending the press conference included past Avon Marathon Champions: English Olympian Joyce Smith; former UCLA great and two-time Olympian Julie Brown, and Martha Cooksey and Nancy Conz, formerly nationally ranked Americans; 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter American record-holder and Olympic Bronze Medalist Lynn Jennings, who represented the United States; and Cheryl Collins, a young prospect who led the American women's team at the IAAF World Championships Marathon in Athens, Greece, a few weeks ago.

"We're all delighted about Avon's support for women's running," said Lynn Jennings. "The Avon circuit will provide American women with another opportunity to compete and improve their performance."