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Lisa Ondieki

Lisa Ondieki With great pleasure Time-to-Run nominates Lisa Ondieki, Australia’s greatest female distance runner to date. Winner of 2 Commonwealth Golds and an Olympic Silver medal.

Who would have expected that when a 400m hurdler by the name of Lisa O’Dea, converted to the longer distances, that she would become Australia’s most successful female marathon runner ever?

When marathon running was first mentioned to the Aussie in 1983, the athlete was outright against the consideration, but thankfully she was convinced and so began an illustrious career which would span the continents and achieve a bucket load of success.

In her first attempt at the distance, she lowered the Australian record by almost 5 minutes with her 2:32:22, which would signal the beginning of her progress towards stardom and fame as a marathon runner.

In 1984, Lisa participated in the inaugural Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles, not as a favourite but as an entrant, finishing 7th in her first sub 2:30 time of 2:29:03. This spurred Martin on to the Chicago Marathon where she brought her Personal Best down to 2:27:40, again behind a rampant Joan Benoit, victor at LA.

The following year, saw Lisa and Ken Martin partake in the Pittsburgh Marathon. As Mrs Martin, Lisa with then husband Ken, went on to create the fastest married couple in history when they both had wins in the their category divisions, with Ken winning in 2:12:57 and Lisa in 2:31:54. This placed them as the King and Queen of Road, a combined time which is yet to be beaten, with a couple winning in the same race.

The once spindly lass who at one time had aspirations of being a national class 100m hurdler was on her way, with a personality and strength of mind to match the talent.

In 1986, Lisa participated in the inaugural Women’s marathon at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland, again lowering her PB with another sub 2:30 performance of 2:26:07. This event took place in August and in November of the same year she again ‘toed the line’, this time at New York, where she would finish 2nd in a time of 2:29:12. So began the New York quest for glory.

Lisa Ondieki

Lisa Ondieki

1987 was to be a ‘not so successful year’, with her marriage to Ken Martin ending late in that year, as well as a DNF at the Rome World Championships to boot.

If anything, Lisa became totally obsessed with her athletic career and she would bounce back from the disappointment of ’87 with a win at Osaka, Japan, the end January 1988. Her time of 2:23:51 would be her career best and with it the recognition of the World’s fastest time for a women only event on an out and back course, this course record would stand for 11 years, before being broken by Romania’s Lydia Simon with a time of 2:23:24 in 1989.

With 1988, being an Olympic year Lisa went into the games as 2nd favourite, with Rosa Mota of Portugal installed as the one to beat. In the heat of Seoul, Korea and despite stomach problems the gritty Australian placed 2nd in an excellent 2:25:53.

1988 was to prove to be Lisa’s year and she had to wait till 1990 to approach the sub 2:25 barrier again, after winning the Commonwealth Games marathon in Aucklund, New Zealand, as defending champion, with a time of 2:25:28 which is still the Game’s record.

1990 saw the birth of Emma. She was now known as Mrs Ondieki, married to Yobes Ondieki the first runner under 27 minutes for 10 000m.

1991 saw Lisa return to New York, for another unsuccessful attempt at the title, finishing 3rd in a time of 2:28:53 behind her Scottish rival, Liz McColgan who won in a time of 2:27:23. This left a bitter taste in the Aussie’s mouth and after a DNF in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, when favoured to win, she returned to New York with a vengeance. With her running of 2:24:40 at New York the end of 1992, she obliterated the field and set a new course record which would stand for 9 years. This was to be Lisa’s most memorable run and ranks as her top marathon.

The silver medalist from 1988, would return to the Olympic Marathon on one last occasion in 1996, however this was not to be and when looking back on Lisa’s most successful runs, they were all spectacular front running exhibitions.

The hurdler had done well.

Lisa Ondieki quote: “I liked running from the time I was very young, but I don’t know if I ran well because I liked it or if I liked it because I was good at it.”

The Australian’s dedication to her sport could never be questioned and her records have stood the test of time, almost 2 decades later.

Lisa Ondieki scores 100 points and on her results is inducted to the athletes ‘Hall of Fame‘ and ‘women rankings‘ as one of the world’s ‘best female marathoners of all time’.


  1. larry Quisenberry says

    I am so proud to have known Lisa back in Eugene. Lisa was not only a great runner but a great person and a very loved friend. Sorry I have not kept up our contact !! Larry Quisenberry

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