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These two women gave the Gay Games track crowd a reason to stand and cheer

“Camaraderie and community. That’s what the Gay Games are all about.”

Inger-johanne Berger and Mary Figliulo gave the crowd at the track a reason to stand and cheer.

The race was a seesaw battle the whole way.

In the women’s 1,500 meter run at the Gay Games Monday afternoon, Mary Figliulo, running for Team San Francisco, took a commanding lead over Team New York’s Inger-johanne Berger. But with about a lap to go, Berger passed Figliulo and built a good 10-meter lead.

Then on the final stretch, Figliulo went into a sprint and caught Berger. Yet she didn’t pass her. Instead she grabbed Berger’s hand, held it aloft, and the two women crossed the finish line at the same time.

The two women were the last to finish on the track in those waning moments of the race. Yet it was their presence — Figliulo at age 66 and Berger age 74 — and their sportsmanship that drew a standing ovation from the crowd.

“Everybody gets the gold here,” Figliulo said after the race. In fact, both women will win medals for their age group.

The two women know a thing or two about the Gay Games. Figliulo has participated in all but one of the quadrennial events, including the first Gay Games in San Francisco in 1982. Berger, who currently lives in Norway, has missed only two Gay Games, with her first competition in 1986.

Today they weathered the heat — over 90 degrees Fahrenheit at the time of their race — to finish what was Berger’s second distance race of the day, after finishing the 10k that morning.

“I’m glad it’s over,” she said. “It’s tough.”

The two women, who both said they came out in their personal lives around 1971, did not know each other before the race. Yet after the race they were supporting and congratulating one another on finishing.

“Camaraderie and community,” Berger said. “That’s what the Gay Games are all about.”