Crossing the Finish Line winning the battle for equality in the women's olympic marathon

Presented by the LA84 Foundation (Best viewed on horizontal browsing)

Dating back to the Olympiads of Ancient Greece, the fight for gender equality in sports has been a constant battle. Even as women slowly gained entry into sport throughout the 1900s, inclusion often came with different sets of standards and treatment.

These inequalities were all too prevalent in women's distance running, where marathoners like Jacqueline Hansen (pictured) were not allowed to run in the Boston Marathon until 1972. Even then, the longest women's distance in the Olympic Games remained the 1,500-meter race.

For Hansen, that was not enough. As a premier marathoner in the 1970s, her Olympic dreams were never realized due to events not being offered. Late in Hansen's running career, she formed the International Runners Committee to further organize efforts toward establishing women's long-distance running events at the highest level of competition.

During Women's History Month, Hansen visited the LA84 Foundation:

The breakthrough for women's distance running came in November 1979 at the Women's International Marathon in Tokyo, the host city for the 1964 Summer Olympic Games. The important guest that day? IAAF President Adriaan Paulen.

Finally, after Paulen's advocacy, the doors were open. It took another 15 months before the event was approved in a vote by the International Olympic Committee, but the deed was done.

On August 5, 1984, the Olympic Women's Marathon would make its way through the streets of Los Angeles and finish at the LA Memorial Coliseum.

And what a race it was...

Despite having knee surgery just five months prior, American Joan Benoit took an early lead on contenders Grete Weitz, Rosa Mota and Ingrid Kristiansen.

It was a lead she never relinquished, as Hansen and The Athletic Congress (now USA Track & Field) long distance running committee chair Julie McKinney eagerly waited at the LA Coliseum.

McKinney and Hansen recall the final minutes of the race.

In 2 hours, 24 minutes and 52 seconds, Joan Benoit earned the first-ever gold medal in the Women's Olympic Marathon.

Suddenly, Joan Benoit was more than a winner. She was a trailblazer.

As the LA 2024 Olympic Bid looms, it also reminds us during Women's History Month of the incredible progress in women's equality and the difference-makers it took to make long-lasting change.

"As every runner knows, running is about more than just putting one foot in front of the other; it is about our lifestyle and who we are."​ - Joan Benoit Samuelson

Looking for more Olympic history testimonials, documents and images? Explore the LA84 Sports Knowledge Center. For more exciting content, follow the LA84 Foundation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Photos courtesy of the LA84 Foundation, Julie McKinney and Jacqueline Hansen.

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