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1/Joan Benoit The Advent of Arthroscopic Surgery May 12, 1984 Olympia, Washington, was the site of what would be a historic race. In all, 238 runners left the starting line in the US qualifier for the 1984 Olympic marathon. That marathon would soon become a milestone as well, marking the first ever women’s marathon in the Olympics.1 One of those 238 competitors made the race historic for an entirely different reason. Joan Benoit left the starting line only 17 days after undergoing knee surgery. Benoit started the race quickly, staying in the front of the pack. Due to her recent injuries, she ran cautiously for the first 12 miles. After running 5:40 miles for almost half of the race, Benoit increased the pace and quickly built a large lead. She knew, though, that the race wasn’t over. Three days before the trials, Benoit had told Kenny Moore of Sports Illustrated, “Those last six miles are scary. Anything can happen.”2 Benoit had a 400-yard lead at the 17-mile mark. There, standing on the side of the road, stood her Athletics West coach, Bob Sevene. Sevene, who had helped guide her through her race preparation and recovery from surgery, tried to gauge her status. “Sev, I’m all right,” Benoit told him. Her coach jumped for joy right there on the side of the road. “When she says that,” Sevene told Moore, “you can go wait in the bar. The race is over.”3 Benoit might have been all right, but the race was far from over. With those last six scary miles left, Benoit’s legs became weak, including her surgically repaired right knee. She slowed her pace to six-minute miles, but she hung on to win the race in 2:31:04.4 Many years later, in an interview with Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World, she called the 1984 Olympic trials “the race of her life.”5 Sevene professed that Benoit’s mental strength, especially in races, was unlike anything he has ever seen. “The sport is 90% ability and attitude, 5% coaching, and 5% luck. In her case, her ability is mental as well as physical.”6 Benoit’s ability 10 / That’s Gotta Hurt to fight through 26.2 miles and beat the entire field of healthy runners serves as a testament to that mental strength. With her win, she went on to compete in Los Angeles against many of the best marathoners in the world. In 1984 the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe boycotted the Olympic Games in response to the US pullout from the 1980 Games over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Even without the athletes from the boycotting Communist nations, Benoit would soon face some of the top female athletes in the world, including Norway’s Grete Waitz and Ingrid Kristiansen and Portugal’s Rosa Mota. She knew she still had work to do. “I feel I’ve really been tested,” said a relieved Benoit to Moore after the trials . “The knee, the operation, the hamstring, the emotional ups and downs. Somehow, with all the people who helped, all the people who love me, I made it. I can’t believe it. Now I’m looking forward to two months of solid training.”7 Sevene became emotional as he described the end of the Olympic trials and Benoit’s TV interview after she won. He still has a picture of her in his arms after that race. He held her because she didn’t want to be seen on television crying.8 Bob Sevene knew Benoit could train and win the Olympic marathon, since she had just overcome a bigger obstacle than any competitor. As she crossed the finish line, Sevene held Benoit and exclaimed, “The greatest damn athlete in the world.”9 Often considered the greatest marathoner of all time, Joan Benoit was widely known to be a religious trainer early in her career. She ran about 200 miles each week. Perhaps it was that volume of training that led to the knee injury that almost kept her out of the Olympics. As the 1984 Olympic trials approached, Benoit quit her job and moved to her home state of Maine to train full time. Rumors spread throughout the running world that she was training 130 miles per week with sub-five-minute interval miles.10 Sevene claimed that Benoit was doing some “scary” workouts to prepare for the trials. Since...


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MARC Record
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