Benoit bounces back to take inaugural marathon gold

Even though the United States team was showered with gold medals at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, there were few more popular and poignant winners than Joan Benoit.

The women’s marathon had never featured in the modern Olympics and was seldom run earlier in the century mainly due to health fears.

However the longest race of them all was installed into the 1984 programme and despite the absentees due to the boycott there was a world-class line-up.

Benoit entered the race as the world record holder but had very little in the way of form to substantiate great hopes of a victory that sunny August day.

She had announced her arrival as a major player in the event when she smashed the world record in winning the Boston Marathon in 1983.

However by the time of the US Olympic trials the following year she had not run a marathon since and was a mere three weeks into her recovery from knee surgery after an injury picked up on a training run.

She won the trials by a healthy margin and her previous run was enough to make her among the race favourites, but with the likes of Norwegians Grete Waitz and Ingrid Kristiansen plus the Portuguese Rosa Mota she was not going to have it all her own way.

Waitz had won the world championship in Helsinki the previous year by a staggering three minutes and had never been beaten over 26.2 miles. Kristiansen won the first of her four career London Marathon wins earlier in 1984 while Mota was the reigning European champion.

Benoit, however, made the race her own and the sight of her celebrating as she hit the back straight at the LA Memorial Coliseum proved one of the most iconic moments of the Games.

She removed her white cap with the upturned peak to acknowledge the crowd, and entered the home straight as the disappointed Waitz entered the stadium in second place.

Benoit crossed the line to deafening noise as she entered the record books as the first ever women’s champion, with Waitz almost a minute and a half in arrears. Mota won bronze.

She won the Chicago Marathon the following year but never emulated the heights of Los Angeles however she was still running high-class marathons well into her 50s.