Joan Benoit Samuelson on women in marathons


There are a handful of names that are synonymous with the Boston Marathon. And Joan Benoit Samuelson is at the top of that list.

The Boston Marathon running legend joined GBH at the Boston Public Library studio on Friday for a chat ahead of Marathon Monday and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the race’s women’s division.

“If it weren’t for the women before me, I wouldn’t be here to speak to you because they really opened the doors for us all,” Samuelson told Linda Polach, executive director of GBH’s Boston Public Library Studio.

“We wouldn’t be talking about a women’s field without her guts, passion and guts,” added Samuelson.

Women like Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb, who became the first woman to finish the Boston Marathon in 1966 after sneaking out of the bushes onto the racetrack. Or Kathrine Switzer, who refined a start number for the marathon in 1967 after registering as “KV Switzer”.

And while she doesn’t brag, Samuelson’s success as a marathon runner has cemented her status as a legend in the Boston running community among the likes of Gibb and Switzer. Whether it was her American record win in her first Boston Marathon in 1979 or her gold medal finish in the first women’s marathon at the 1984 Olympics, Samuelson laid the groundwork for many runners who ended up following in her footsteps, redefining sport for women .

“I think we’re trying to pass the baton and help each other out,” Samuelson said.

Watch: Joan Benoit Samuelson at the Boston Marathon

The Maine native also shared some advice for those running the Boston Marathon this year, adding some important things for runners to think about as they make their way from Hopkinton to Boston.

“You just have to have patience on this course…You just have to realize that everyone out there has an inspiring story to tell. What motivated you to run the Boston Marathon? What motivated you to raise money? a charity? And what motivated you to come back, like I come back year after year to meet old friends who are a very big part of my life?” Samuelson said.

As the interview ended and the Newsfeed cafe emptied, a young woman with flushed cheeks and teary eyes approached the BPL studio. Maureen O’Shea, a first-time Boston Marathon runner, was blown away to be in the presence of the Boston Marathon kings. The 26-year-old from Vermont qualified for the 2022 Boston Marathon by just a minute.

As they snapped a picture together, O’Shea looked down at Samuelson’s and her own feet, both wearing the same pair of Nike sneakers. A moment O’Shea savored.

Two runners separated by almost forty years – one at the beginning of their Boston Marathon journey, the other deep in their own – and both share a love of this historic race.


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