Joan Benoit Samuelson shocked the world when she made a risky early break at the inaugural women’s Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles in 1984. She ran alone for the final 21 miles of the race and became an instant icon when she won the gold medal. Her numerous history-making achievements, as well as her passion, grace, and discipline, have made her one of the legends of distance running.
Never Giving Up
Joanie, as she is called by many, began running as recovery for a leg injury that she sustained while skiing. She ran track and cross country at Bowdoin College in Maine, and in her senior year she won the 1979 Boston Marathon in 2:35:15, setting an American record on the tough Boston course. In 1983 in Boston, she shattered the American record and took more than two minutes off the world record with one of the greatest marathon performances of all time when she ran 2:22:43 for the win.
Following these triumphs, Benoit Samuelson came up against seemingly impossible odds when she injured her knee while training for the first-ever U.S. Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials. In one of the most inspiring examples of triumph over adversity in all of sport, a mere 17 days after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery she ran and won the Trials race, and she went on to her landmark victory in Los Angeles later that year. Her world record was eclipsed by Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen in April 1985, and the two met for a classic showdown at the 1985 Chicago Marathon later that year. Benoit prevailed in 2:21:21, a time that was just 15 seconds short of Kristiansen’s record but good for another American record. (That mark stood for more than 20 years until it was broken by Deena Kastor in 2006.)
Benoit Samuelson continues to strive for excellence. In 2008, she ran a sub-2:50 marathon at the age of 50 at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, held in Boston. She ran the 2012 Boston Marathon with her daughter, Abby. This year, at age 55 and 30 years after her spectacular 1983 record-breaking Boston performance, she ran the race again and won the 55–59 age group in a remarkable time of 2:50:29.
Giving Back to the Sport That Gave Her So Much
Running is not only part of Benoit Samuelson’s past, but part of her future as well. As a competitor, wife, mother, philanthropist, and mentor, she has redefined the concept of a lifetime runner. In her own quiet and unassuming way, she is a stunning example and inspiration for others, in sport and in life. She continues to spread her love of running and her credo of passionate determination as a coach of fitness clinics and as a motivational speaker who inspires athletic teams, school groups, and corporations around the world.
International Marathon Highlights
|1984||Los Angeles Olympic Marathon||2:24:52|
|1988||New York City Marathon||2:32:40|
|1991||New York City Marathon||2:33:49|