People Who Kick Buts: Joan Benoit Samuelson
I look at victory as milestones on a very long highway.
- Born May 16, 1957.
- 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.
- Her time at the Boston Marathon was the fastest time by an American woman at that race for 28 years.
- Born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, of French and Scandinavian ancestry, Benoit took to long-distance running to help recover from a broken leg suffered while slaloming.
- At Bowdoin College she excelled in athletics. In 1977, after two years at Bowdoin, she accepted a running scholarship to North Carolina State, where she began concentrating solely on her running.
After returning to Bowdoin to complete her degree, she entered the 1979 Boston Marathon as a relative unknown. She won the race, wearing a Boston Red Sox cap, in 2:35:15, knocking eight minutes off the competition record. She repeated that success with a victory again in 1983, that took more than two minutes off the world’s best time, set by Grete Waitz in the London Marathon just the day before, despite having had surgery on her Achilles tendons two years earlier.
Her Boston course record of 2:22:43, set in 1983, was not broken for another 11 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 more quickly 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 Waitz, Rosa Mota, and Ingrid Kristiansen, all considered legends in their own rights.
- Since her retirement from competitive running, she has written books including Running Tide and Running for Women, and has opened a running clinic.
She is also a coach to women’s cross-country and long-distance athletes, and is a motivational speaker and sports commentator.
- In 2006 she helped pace former cycling champion Lance Armstrong as he competed in the New York City Marathon.
- At the 2008 US Olympic Team trials, at the age of 50, she finished in 2:49:08, setting a new US 50+ record and beating her personal goal of a mid-2:50s retirement marathon.
- Benoit resides in Freeport, Maine. She is featured on the Nike+ iPod system as one of the congratulatory voices, along with others including Lance Armstrong. Benoit and husband Scott Samuelson have two children, daughter Abby and son Anders.