Saturday, April 19, 2008
It was Samuelson's gold medal in LA that made me decide that I would run a marathon one day and attempt to win a gold medal. I did not begin running until 10 years later (other sports came first back then) but when I did I gave it my all. An Olympic opportunity never came my way but I was able to compete at a World class level and win medals. It was because of the imprint of Samuelson forever in my memory.
These days when I coach, I talk about Samuelson and anyone under the age of 35 years has no clue who she is. When you read this article you will no doubt agree that she should be regarded amongst the best female distance runners to have ever competed.
At age 50 and to be able to run in your Country's Olympic trials.............need I say more!
By Aimee Berg / Special to WCSN.com
Joan Samuelson is the only woman to have qualified for all seven U.S. Olympic marathon trials, and at age 50, she will be the oldest runner in the field when more than 160 women line up in Boston on April 20 to vie for a berth in Beijing.
Admittedly, Samuelson won't be trying to finish in the top three to make the Olympic team, but the 1984 gold medalist may just steal the show.
But why now, after skipping three other Trials that she had been eligible to run (in 1988, 1992, and 2004)?
"Because it's there," said Samuelson, quoting the late British mountain climber George Mallory. But Samuelson was not only referring to the Trials' existence.
"The fact that it's in Boston was an incentive for me," she told WCSN.com in a phone interview from her home in Freeport, Maine, where she works as a consultant and raises a daughter and son with her husband, Scott. "I believe this will be my last competitive effort. To begin and end my career there made sense."
In 1979, contesting just her second marathon (after qualifying three months earlier in Bermuda), the 21-year-old Bowdoin College senior defeated the pre-race favorite by three minutes to win the Boston Marathon in 2:35:15. "I had no idea what I was doing," she recalled.
She slept on the floor of her friend's apartment the night before, ran the race in a Bowdoin tank top, and finished by breaking the American record in a Red Sox cap worn backwards.
Samuelson went on to lower the world-best marathon time twice before winning the inaugural Olympic marathon trials in 1984, as well as the gold medal at the Los Angeles Games that August. Later, in a riveting battle with Norway's Ingrid Kristiansen, she tried to be the first woman to break 2:20 but the closest she came was 2:21:21 en route to winning the 1985 Chicago Marathon. It would remain an American record for almost 18 years.
"When 2:20 was broken and I didn't achieve it, I needed another goal," said Samuelson, who finished 13th at the 1996 trials and 9th at the 2000 trials. "I decided to qualify for these Trials and run 2:50-something at age 50."
To prepare, Samuelson has been running an average of 70-80 miles a week since the beginning of the year - mostly on the back roads of Maine despite record snowfalls - and supplementing her mileage with downhill and Nordic skiing. She hasn't hired a coach.
"I'm doing it by the seat of my pants, catch as catch can," she said.
"Naturally, I'll be trying to run my own race [on race day] as I always did. I'm not going to set a pace like I did in 1984, but my hope is that I can maintain my pace and maybe reel some people in at the end."
"I'm going to run just under a 3-hour pace," Samuelson said.
"I don't think I have to prove anything to anyone, except to myself."