On this date in 1984, Joan Benoit (1957- ) became the first woman to win an Olympic marathon. Her interest in running was jumpstarted by a skiing accident. When she was a sophomore in high school, she broke her leg skiing and took up running to get back in shape.
I found out I could do it [running] anywhere and anytime, didn’t have to wait for snow; I didn’t have to leave a carbon footprint behind and I could just go out and run. I just loved to run and I challenged myself with longer and longer distances every time I went out to run. –Joan Benoit Samuelson, (Interview with Nicki Miller, competitor.com, 8/6/14)
Thanks to Title IX legislation (1972), Benoit ran track in high school and college. She won the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983, but her most famous race took place in the summer of 1984.
On a hot summer morning, 50 women representing 28 countries lined up to run the 26.2 miles of the marathon. Having had knee surgery just 17 days prior to the Olympic trials, Benoit was not favored to win. Furthermore, Grete Waitz of Norway had beaten Benoit 10 out of 11 races. The starting pistol rang out and the pack of runners took flight. Benoit took a short lead just over 2 miles into the race. She skipped the first water station increasing her lead, much to the dismay of the commentators.
Joanie is running a very unusual race…It kinda flies in the face of marathon wisdom of the past, of the way most top competitors compete, but Joanie is her own woman. –Bill Rodgers, marathoner and ABC Sports commentator.
Benoit later claimed she was hemmed in by the crowd of runners, and her stride had been compromised. By pulling ahead, she could run her own race. Over two hours later she entered the Los Angeles Coliseum to the joyous roar of the crowd. Never breaking pace, Benoit ran the final lap and into the history books, clocking in at 2:24.52, more than a minute ahead of silver medalist, Grete Waitz.
Since the 1984 Olympics, Joan Benoit Samuelson has authored two books on running. She also directs running clinics, sponsors a charity run, consults for Nike, and most importantly, continues to run. Click here to watch her historic final lap in the Olympics: See Joan Run!
Feminist Fact #1: Women competed in the Olympics for the first time in 1900. Twenty-two women competed in five sports: croquet, equestrianism, golf, sailing and tennis.
Feminist Fact #2: Title IX was passed into federal law on June 23, 1972. It requires, “gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding.” – Title IX.Info Title IX is well known for assuring equality in sports, but it also covers: Access to Higher Education, Career Education, Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students, Employment, Learning Environment, Math and Science, Sexual Harassment, Standardized Testing and Technology.