Q&A 26

Who won the first Olympic Gold Medal in the womens marathon? When? Where?

Joan Benoit Samuelson (born May 16, 1957) is an American marathon runner who won gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, the year that the women's marathon was introduced. As a result, she was the first-ever women's Olympic marathon champion. Benoit Samuelson still holds the fastest times for an American woman at the Chicago Marathon and the Olympic Marathon.[1] Her time at the Boston Marathon was the fastest time by an American woman at that race for 28 years.

In March 1984, Benoit injured her knee severely during a 20-mile training run, forcing her to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery just 17 days before the United States Olympic Women's Marathon Trials were scheduled. However, she recovered from the surgery much quicker than expected, and showed up at the trials as the woman to beat. She beat runner-up Julie Brown by 30 seconds, winning in 2:31:04. Three months later, she competed in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and won the first Olympic Women's Marathon in 2:24:52, several hundred meters ahead of Grete WaitzRosa Mota, and Ingrid Kristiansen, all considered legends in their own rights.[4]

Benoit enjoyed success at non-marathon distances as well, winning the prestigious Falmouth Road Race (7.1 miles) a total of six times (1976, 1978, 1981–1983, and 1985), breaking the course record on four of those occasions.

Although she won the 1985 Chicago marathon, defeating Kristiansen and Mota in an American Record time of 2:21:21 (that would last as the AR for 18 years until broken by Deena Kastor in 2003 in London),[5] Benoit was hampered in the years after her Olympic victory by injuries and struggled to compete in major races. She received the 1985 James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States.