1983 – Joan Benoit

Source: Track & Field News (link under References)

18-Apr-1983 – Boston Marathon – 2:22:43 – Nike Lady Terra T/C
Date of birth: 16-May-1957
Nationality: American

The athlete:                
Joan Benoit has been featured several times on this website, such was her presence in distance running at the time. She most famously captured gold at the 1984 Olympics in the first ever women’s marathon held at the event in dominant fashion, setting an Olympic record that lasted until 2000. It is however another chapter of her story that we will focus on in this entry.

In 1983, Benoit lined up at the Boston Marathon hoping to snatch her second win at the prestigious race. Such was her pace in the early stages of the 1983 event that her pacer advised she was on track to finish in 2:16. It was no hyperbole, Benoit finishing the first half of the race in 1:08:23, a new American record. This was after she had set the new American record for the 10 mile split, covering that in only 51:38. There was however still the matter of the notorious hills in the latter stages of the course.

She had been told before the race that the day before the legendary Grete Waitz had taken the world record at the London Marathon; the desire to beat that time motivated Benoit during the race. It clearly helped, her final time was an incredible 2:22:42, which appeared to be the new women’s marathon world record. Second place was captured by Jacqueline Gareau, who was nearly seven minutes behind Benoit at the finish.

To digress, in 1990 World Athletics introduced new rules in regarding marathon course eligibility for record purposes. Two parts of this were that courses couldn’t drop more than an average of one metre per kilometre, and the start and finish could be no further than 21.1 kilometres apart to prevent favourable tail winds benefitting competitors. The Boston Marathon course drops 3.3 metres per kilometre. The 1983 event was reported as having tail winds in the early parts of the course. To put the conditions into perspective, 84 runners broke the 2:20 mark and no less than 263 went below 2:28:30. Conditions were simply ideal for fast running.

World Athletics still however regards Benoit’s performance as the world record, while invalidating future performances like that set by Geoffrey Mutai when he ran the fastest ever marathon at the 2011 Boston Marathon. The Association of Road Running Statisticians (ARRS) do not consider it to have been the world record for the reasons discussed above. The ARRS are an independent group created years later by many former racing officials and supported by researchers from across the world. You can read more about this issue in my article here.

Benoit’s performance however confirmed her as one to watch at the inaugural women’s Olympic marathon in 1984, where she would further build her legend. Her time at the Boston Marathon would stand as the course record until 1994, and is also still the 13th fastest time ever set at the event.

The shoes:                   

Benoit wore Nikes for most of her running career, and achieved her greatest achievements in running shoes bearing the famous swoosh. What she wore that day in Boston were the Nike Lady Terra T/C. The colourway and overlays are easy to see in the pictures we have from the 1983 Boston Marathon. She had worn the exact same shoes to set the marathon world record the year before, and you can read more about them on this website.

Running Tide by Joan Benoit