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Marathon great Waitz loses cancer battle

Grete Waitz competing in the 1984 New York City marathon.
Grete Waitz competing in the 1984 New York City marathon.
  • Marathon great, Grete Waitz dies of cancer aged 57
  • Norwegian runner won a record nine New York City marathons and two London marathons
  • Waitz won the gold medal at the world athletics championships in Helsinki in 1983

(CNN) -- Norwegian marathon runner Grete Waitz, winner of a record nine New York City marathons, has died at the age of 57 following a six-year fight with cancer.

Waitz, who had been undergoing treatment for cancer since 2005, died overnight on Tuesday in hospital in Norway's capital Oslo, according to Helle Aanesen, co-founder of Waitz's Active Against Cancer Foundation.

She won her first New York title in 1978 setting a world record time of two hours, 32 minutes and 30 seconds.

The last of her nine wins -- more than any other athlete, male or female, at the event -- came in 1988, by which time she had also won the London marathon twice (1983 and 1986).

Waitz took marathon gold at the inaugural world athletics championships at Helsinki in 1983 and picked up the silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympics the following year.

International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president Lamine Diack described Waitz as "one of the brightest flames of the modern athletics era," AFP reported.

"The dedication, perseverance and fortitude with which Grete carved out her athletics career on the track, across the country and on the road is an example to us all, as is the positive way she tackled the illness that beset her life in recent years," he said, AFP reported.

Waitz's talents extended to other distances as well. She won the world cross-country title five times and twice broke the 3,000 meter world record -- in 1975 and 1976.

In her native Norway she won a total of 33 national championships across a range of distances.

Svein Arne Hansen, head of the Norwegian athletics federation called her "the greatest Norwegian athlete of all times" and "a model for women's sport," AFP reported.