Thursday, June 24, 2010
Great Moments in American Sports - Joan Benoit
The women's marathon was first introduced at the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California. Joan Benoit Samuelson was the first gold medalist of this event. Born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine in 1957, Joan's first sports passion was skiing. Her father who was an army skier during World War II instilled this passion in her, and taught her the sport. In her sophomore year of high school, however, Joan broke her leg on the slopes. When recovering from her injury, she began running. She soon realized that she took as much pleasure in running as in skiing. Joan attended Bowdoin College, where she played field hockey and continued to run. One day she showed up to field hockey practice sore from a long run the day before. Her coach made her sit out for the remainder of the season, so Joan quit the team and started running full time. As a senior in college, she entered the Boston Marathon. Despite it being only her second marathon, she won the women's division and set an American record. Out of college, she worked as the coach for the women's track and cross country teams at Boston College. She also continued to train herself, totaling one hundred miles a week. She was determined to be in peak form for the Olympics. However, seventeen days before the Olympic trials, Joan underwent knee surgery. Fortunately, she recovered quickly and won the qualifying race to obtain a spot on the American team. On August 5th, Joan was the last runner to parade into the stadium, seeing that the teams were arranged in height order and she was the shortest. There was a total of fifty women, from twenty-eight different countries, in the race. The runners departed from Santa Monica College and made their way through the humid, twenty-six mile course in Los Angeles. About fourteen minutes into the race, Joan, deciding the pace was too slow, took the lead and continued to widen her lead throughout the rest of the race. At the nineteen-mile mark, her lead had extended to two minutes. She entered the Los Angeles Coliseum, greeted by the roar of 77,000 fans. She finished the marathon with a time of 2:24:52. It was the third fastest women's marathon time and a time that would have won thirteen of the twenty previous men's Olympic marathons. She instantly became an idol to all women runners and inspired many other women to run. Even after retiring from competitive running, she continues to make her presence known in the running world. She has written books, opened a running clinic, coached many teams, and founded a road race.