It was only twenty-five years ago today when women ran their first Olympic Marathon. At 8 am on August 5, 1984 fifty competitors from twenty-eight countries started the race. Forty-four of them finished in the hot and muggy conditions. As the only distance option for women over 3000 metres, the field included not just marathon specialists, but 5000 metre and 10000 metre runners (those races were denied entry that same year). Joan Benoit won the foot race in an impressive 2.24.52 9 (at the time the third faster women’s finish ever). She surged ahead of the pack fourteen minutes into the race and extended that lead to over one and a half minutes before she crossed the finish line. The lone figure with the big grin extending a victorious hat wave to the crowd is one of the most memorable moments in marathon history. Almost prophetically, a huge Nike mural depicting her 1983 Boston win greeted Benoit before she made her final entrance into the stadium. Her strong entrance into the stadium, which she half expected to be empty (it was packed with 77,000 spectators), was picture perfect. Benoit was followed by a tight pack of seven runners who all crossed the finish line under 2.30.00 (the top Canadian finished 8th in 2.29.09). That group of seven included legendary marathoners Grete Waitz, Rosa Mota, and Ingrid Kristiansen. The women allayed any lingering doubts that the marathon was too arduous for women (not a single uterus fell out!) and vindicated a long-fought battle for acceptance of women’s distance running on an Olympic stage. Among this show of power, 37th place finisher Gabriela Andersen-Schiess from Switzerland dragging herself the final 400 metres to the finish line is an image few will forget. Despite suffering from severe heat exhaustion she denied herself medical assistance knowing that aid meant disqualification. With a wildly contorted torso and a stumbling stiff-legged gait she staggered across the finish line before collapsing into the arms of the medics. A new era of women’s running had begun.
I was a wee little tot, but I still remember watching the race. View it again or see it for the first time (clip #1 includes Benoit’s win and #2 Anderson’s heroic finish):
Title Reference: A Joan Benoit-Samuelson quote.