â†µBenoit, a Maine native who first gained renown by winning the 1979 Boston Marathon as a relative unknown (and famously sporting a Red Sox cap while doing so), was expected to battle it out in the inaugural Olympic women’s marathon with the Norwegian distance-running great Grete Waitz. Entering the race, Waitz had never lost a marathon she had finished. â†µ
â†µShe lost this one, though. The Benoit/Waitz battle never materialized for the simple reason that Benoit went out early and stayed out late. She pulled out in front of the pack in the third mile of the race and never looked back. The image of Benoit running solo throughout that entire marathon, with her effortlessly compact stride and trademark cap bobbing in the sun, is an indelible memory of the 1984 Games. It was an amazing performance that defied all conventional marathoning logic. Generally, the rabbit that dares to go out early ends up getting caught and all too often finds herself unable to finish. â†µâ†µ
â†µBut Benoit was determined to set her pace and stick to it. “I promised myself I’d run my race and nobody else’s,” she said afterwards, “and that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t have any second thoughts.” She finished in 2:24:52, which was the third-fastest women’s marathon on record at the time. Waitz finished second in 2:26:18. â†µâ†µ
â†µAlmost as memorable as Benoit’s staggering feat in that race is the image of Swiss marathoner Gabriele Andersen-Scheiss … staggering. She made it to the stadium a good 15 minutes after the leaders and brought a gasp from the crowd with her entry. Suffering from severe heat exhaustion and contorted with pain, she nevertheless weaved to the finish line like a drunken sailor, avoiding the grasp of any attendant who tried to help her as the crowd cheered her on. Having watched it live, I can tell you that Andersen-Scheiss’s zigzagging, tortured final lap around the track was one of those sporting moments that lives with you forever, where you just marvel at the courage and determination that lives inside the human heart. â†µâ†µ
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