30 years ago: Joan Benoit enters the Coliseum (video)

My favorite moment of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics came on the first Sunday of the games. The old men who ran the Olympics had deigned to allow women to run the marathon for the first time. After leading almost the whole way, American Joan Benoit earned the thrill of entering a jam-packed Los Angeles Coliseum all by herself.

She makes the turn into the tunnel at about the 2:30 mark of the video. You can just skip to that point — and turn up the sound to hear the stadium roar — but there is some nice vintage street footage of Brentwood, Mid-City and the approach to Exposition Park as Benoit pulls far out front of the pack. I glimpsed her run past in two places along the route and I still feel it's the most impressive and emotional athletic feat I've personally seen. Benoit finished in 2:24:52, still taking strong full strides.

Benoit runs alone and crosses the finish line. LAPL photos: Paul Chinn/Herald Examiner collection

Bonus memory: Gabriela Anderson-Schiess, an Idaho ski instructor who ran for Switzerland, entered the Coliseum 20 minutes after Benoit. She was staggering and looked disoriented, but kept moving mostly forward. She forced her legs through the two final laps around the Coliseum track — while fending off assistance that would have disqualified her. The medics saw that she was still perspiring and thus not in full dehydration. It took Andersen-Schiess almost six agonizing minutes to complete the last 400-meter lap, while people around the world screamed at their TVs — they either wanted her stopped or pulled for her to finish her quest. Andersen-Schiess crossed the line and collapsed, finishing 37th, and setting off debates about what had just happened. Red Hunter, one of three medical officials who ran the last 400 meters with her, said "it had to be [the] most courageous thing I've ever seen." Others were horrified.

I can't find an adequate English version without dumb music. This is the cleanest video clip I could find. Paul Chinn took this photo as well for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, now in the LA Public Library photography collection.


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