Joan Benoit Samuelson: A Column By Mark Tucker for Runner’s Tribe

The first ever winner of the Women’s Olympic Marathon. The first ever! For any distance runner that would be an absolute dream sentence to come after your name. For Joan Benoit Samuelson, it’s reality.

In the heat, humidity and smog of Los Angeles in 1984, Benoit Samuelson made history when she ran into the Coliseum to win the first ever Olympic Marathon Gold medal on offer for women. What made the run even more remarkable was that she lead from the front for close to 23 of the 26.2 miles, pushing the pace relentlessly, not letting any of her fellow competitors ever have a chance of winning.

By-the-way, she had arthroscopic surgery on her knee just 17 days before the 1984 United States Olympic Marathon Trials. Of course (as you do!) she won the trial in 2:31:04, beating her next rival, Julie Brown, by over 30 seconds. Three months later, she was Olympic Champion.

When I was younger and first read about this, I was amazed. Reading it now, I’m still amazed! A Marathon is no picnic, so to even contemplate running one, less than three weeks after having surgery, is mind-boggling! That was Joan Benoit Samuelson. (She had also recovered quickly in 1981, after having surgery on both of her Achilles tendons).

From her first major Marathon in 1979, the famous Boston Marathon, she seemed destined for greatness. In winning the race in a time of 2:35:15, breaking the previous course record by over eight minutes, she became the new American record holder. Four years later she would repeat her Boston Marathon triumph, this time breaking the World record. To top it all off, in 1985 – one year after her Olympic success – Benoit Samuelson won the Chicago Marathon in an American record of 2:21:21.

And she’s still running! Since the great heights of her career she has still been competitive, over a variety of distances, with women much younger than her, whilst also winning numerous Masters’ titles. In 2010 she ran 2:47:50 for the Marathon at the age of 52 (Chicago Marathon). And three years later she still ran 2:50:12 at the Boston Marathon!

Quite truly an inspiration for all, young and old, to maintain a lifetime commitment to running and healthy living. Joan Benoit Samuelson: an absolute legend!

Here are some of her memorable quotes over the years – an insight into the person and runner:

“As every runner knows, running is about more than just putting one foot in front of the other; it is about our lifestyle and who we are.”

“Running is such a part of my life. If I were never to run another marathon, I would still do two-hour runs.”

“Those long runs cleanse my system, physically and mentally.”

“Just like I hope to be a mother for the rest of my life, I hope to be a runner for the rest of my life.”

“Every time I fail, I assume I will be a stronger person for it. I keep on running figuratively and literally, despite a limp that gets more noticeable with each passing season, because for me there has always been a place to go and a terrible urgency to get there.”


Some Joan Benoit Samuelson YouTube viewing from RT