On the morning of August 5, 1984, four of the greatest marathoners of all time lined up for one of the most important and long-awaited races in history. By then, they had dominated their competition for at least five years, upending a century’s worth of preconceived notions of what marathoners could do. By decade’s end, they had lowered the world record a total of 13 minutes, won 27 major marathon titles, and swept every Olympic and World Championship held in the 1980s. And, in their careers, only once did all four—American Joan Benoit, Norwegians Grete Waitz and Ingrid Kristiansen, and Portugal’s Rosa Mota—square off in the same race: at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, in the first-ever Women’s Olympic Marathon.
Such was their talent that Benoit, the world record holder, entered the race as the underdog. She’d had knee surgery in April, and no one, least of all Benoit herself, was certain she could hold up for 26 miles against her three rivals. Waitz, the former world record holder, was the favorite—she had destroyed the field at the 1983 World Championships and had never lost a marathon she had finished. Kristiansen, who had beaten Waitz twice in the summer of 1984 (albeit at shorter distances), was considered the fastest woman in the race: she held world records at 5,000m and 10,000m, and would break Benoit’s marathon record in 1985. Mota had beaten Kristiansen at the 1982 European marathon championships, and was already earning a reputation for raising her level in the biggest races.
This is their story, and the story of the first women’s Olympic Marathon.
Stephen Lane, the meet director for the Adrian Martinez Classic (considered the top professional track and field meet for distance runners on the East Coast), has coached track and field for twenty-five years. A history and economics teacher at Concord-Carlisle High School in Massachusetts, he was named the “Distinguished K-12 Educator” by the American Meteorological Society in 2016, the first non-science teacher to be so honored. Steve earned a BA with honors in political science from Williams College and a master’s in education from Simmons College. He lives in Concord, MA.
"A thought-provoking and special story of determination, struggle, and success!"
—Bill "Boston Billy" Rodgers, 4-time Boston Marathon champion and 4-time New York City Marathon champion
"Possibly the best book on running I’ve ever read. Steve Lane does an excellent job chronicling the history of women’s running, as well as the origins of the running boom and the social milieu which enabled it. But mostly it’s about the four women, their illustrious running careers and the events that led up to what Mr. Lane calls “The Greatest Marathon in Olympic History” -- and it is hard to argue with him on this."
—Jack Fultz, 1976 Boston Marathon champion, coach and training consultant, Dana Farber Cancer Institute Marathon Challenge Team
"The first women’s Olympic marathon in 1984 was the most important marathon ever, and now it finally has the full-length book coverage it has long deserved....This is a book every woman marathon runner should read … and then loan to their spouse, brothers, sons, and more."
—Amby Burfoot, 1968 Boston Marathon winner, Author of First Ladies of Running, and co-host of Running: State of the Sport podcast.
"This book is both well written and meticulously researched... a must-read for all lovers of the sport of running."
—Dannette Williamson, Run for Life coaching
“But there was so much more to woman’s running than that single moment of glory, and author Stephen Lane travels back in time to help us fully appreciate every nuance. A history teacher, race director and author, he takes a broad view of events and skillfully places them in context. His is the voice of a coach and sports reporter as he offers a compelling play-by-play of the Olympic Marathon, building suspense throughout the book with well-placed italicized interlude teasers for what is to come.”
—American Trail Running Association