by Dorothy Kangas
Joan Benoit Samuelson is easily one of the all-time great marathoners the
world has ever seen. In 1984, when Los Angeles hosted the first
Olympic women's marathon, few runners knew who Joan was or what kind of
impact her running would make in the world during the 1980s. Among women
runners, Joan's name is at the top of the list for speed, respect, and
At the tender age of 26 Joan made her name shine around the globe. Merely
17 days after agonizing knee surgery, Joan won the 1984 Olympic Trials.
She was the winner of the first Olympic women's
marathon that same year. Since then, Joan has won the Boston Marathon
(1983), holds the record for the Chicago Marathon (1985), and holds the U.S.
record for the second fastest time ever by a woman. Her pace and dedication
are not to be taken lightly.
As a mother of two children, Joan is keenly aware of the balance that must
be maintained by any runner. Training, family, injuries, community
commitments, etc., all have to be delicately weighed before the dream to run
and win can be realized. Especially when the race is a marathon. A
marathon is a 26.2 mile long race. The weak-of-heart need not apply.
A typical running schedule for someone like Joan Benoit Samuelson is
grueling. Some marathons run up to 200 miles each week, that is the
distance Joan was running early in her marathoning career. After her win in
the Olympics, the quest to run again for Team USA has been hampered by
injuries, and a new set of [younger] runners who are just as determined and
dedicated to the sport as Joan. In early February, 1996, Joan's quest for a
spot on the 1996 Olympic team ended with a time of 2:36.54, thirteenth place
and just seven minutes behind the first-place finisher. When Joan was
beginning her career as a runner, this time would have easily earned her a
spot on the team. This fact proves how influential and competitive Joan's
professional life have been on today's runners.
Joan's career has been strengthened through the years, and to call her old
or rusty would be a sin to the young women runners, including those who run
simply for fitness. Joan is an all-American in most eyes - men and women
alike - who respect her for being at the top of the sport while still
balancing a tough (if not death-defying) training schedule with a
professional life and family life. But Joan's personality and popularity
have become synonymous with marathoning. The challenge she faced this year
in the Olympic Trials won't end her career. It's just beginning. And a
lifetime of running from one dedicated woman is enough to inspire and keep
many more on the track.
©Copyright 1996 by Jan Meyer.