Joan Benoit wins first women’s marathon in Olympic history

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Los Angeles was host to the Summer Olympics 25 years ago. This ninth part of a 16-day series looks back at Saturday, Aug. 5, 1984:

The big news

No one said marathons are easy, what with 26.2 miles and a few thousand calories to burn, but American Joan Benoit made it look that way.

Benoit won the first women’s marathon in Olympic history in style, running the third fastest women’s marathon ever at the time, 2 hours 24 minutes 52 seconds. She also won it 17 days after knee surgery but said after the race, “It was kind of like following the yellow brick road.”


It was expected to be a showdown between Benoit, the world-record holder, and Norway’s Grete Waitz, who was undefeated in her marathon attempts. That showdown never materialized.

“I don’t know how to say this without sounding cocky, but it was a very easy run for me today,” Benoit said. “I was surprised I wasn’t challenged at all.”

The big surprise

Edwin Moses’ consistency (that’s a joke). Moses won his 90th straight final in the 400-meter hurdles, winning the gold medal with a time of 47.75 seconds, beating American Danny Harris and West Germany’s Harald Schmid. Schmid was the last man to beat Moses (in 1977 in Berlin) but admitted after the race that he was running for the silver medal. “I could have been a silver, but gold was impossible,” Schmid said, referring to Moses’ dominance in the event.


Walking into the Los Angeles Coliseum for the ’84 Olympics, Edwin Moses wasn’t nervous. Really. They had held the Olympic trials there a few weeks earlier, so he knew the place.

Still, he said recently, “It’s a huge facility so it’s almost overpowering, the way the stands are set up and everybody is so close, and you can virtually see everybody.”

But, he said, “It looks completely different without the track.”

These days, Moses is chairman of Laureus World Sports Academy, a worldwide sports foundation that has 70 projects in 38 different countries and is based in London.


From the archives

“When runner No. 323 entered Memorial Coliseum Sunday, all was well with the Olympics. Marathon queen Joan Benoit was mugging with the American flag, and ABC was beaming that smile from coast to coast. . . . Runner 323 was Switzerland’s Gabriela Andersen-Schiess, 39, a ski instructor from Sun Valley, Ida., run-walking in what looked like a drunken lurch, her right arm flailing, her left leg unbending at the knee. She dragged it along with her, weaving left, then right, going not so much forward as sideways. . . . Such are the physical tortures of an athlete running in the throes of heat prostration.”

-- Rick Reilly in Los Angeles Times

Spotlight on

The Italian navy. No, it didn’t compete, but it did show up in full force for the Italy-Chile soccer quarterfinal match. Caio Duilio, a 6,500-ton missile cruiser, pulled into Palo Alto, just to see the game. About 150 members of the crew attended, blowing red whistles and waving flags.

It wasn’t the first time the ship’s crew had gone on cheerleading duty. They also saw the Italy-Egypt game in the Rose Bowl during the opening round of the Olympic soccer tournament a week earlier.

-- Baxter Holmes