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1984 Olympics First Women’s Marathon August 5, 1984

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Joan Benoit was the winner of the the gold medal in the marathon at the 1984 Olympics. It was the first time in Olympic history when women competed in that event. The Men’s Marathon has been a part of the modern Olympics since its inception in 1896.

That’s not to say that women hadn’t tried to compete in the Olympic Marathon.

Women had been forbidden from participating in the ancient Olympics. A woman who was caught even as a spectator at the Games could face execution. But women in ancient Greece held their own festival to honor the goddess Hera every five years. Only one athletic event was held-a short footrace.

When the Olympics were revived in 1896, women were again excluded. But, in March of 1896, Stamatis Rovithi became the first woman to run a marathon when she covered the proposed Olympic course from Marathon to Athens. The following month, a woman named Melpomene presented herself as an entrant in the Olympic Marathon. Race organizers denied her the opportunity to compete. Undiscouraged, Melpomene warmed up for the race out of sight. When the starter’s gun sounded, she began to run along the side of the course. Eventually she fell behind the men, but as she continued on, stopping at Pikermi for a glass of water, she passed runners who dropped out of the race in exhaustion. She arrived at the stadium about an hour and a half after Spiridon Louis won the race. Barred from entry into the now empty stadium, she ran her final lap around the outside of the building, finishing in approximately four and a half hours. One Greek newspaper wrote that the Olympic organizers were discourteous to disallow Melpomene’s entry into the race, but nonetheless it would be nearly a century before another woman would run the Olympic Marathon. Read more

Benoit won her gold medal posting a time of 2:24:52, which was then the third fastest Women’s Marathon ever run. Her time would have beaten 13 of the 20 previous Men’s Olympic Marathon gold medalists. Paula Radcliff set the current Marathon record on April 13, 2003. She ran the race in 2:15:25.


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