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LOOKING BACK / 1984 OLYMPICS DAY 9 IN L.A.

Marathon Is a Breeze for Benoit

August 05, 2004|Bill Dwyre

If you were a commentator and the topic was women's athletics, you couldn't go wrong on this day.

First, Joan Benoit -- now Joan Benoit Samuelson -- thrilled those who had welcomed the inclusion of a women's marathon in the Olympics, despite critics who'd said women weren't physically strong enough.

For Benoit, the New Englander recovering from recent knee surgery, this women's marathon was a breeze. She won in 2 hours 24 minutes 52 seconds, the third-fastest women's time ever and only a tailwind shy of Grete Waitz's 2:22:43 world record. Waitz woke up on race day with a sore back and never challenged Benoit, finishing second.

But as the celebrations were hitting full stride for Benoit, Gabriela Andersen-Scheiss, an American running for Switzerland, emerged from the Coliseum tunnel. Apparently battling heatstroke, she ran at an angle, her face distorted, her left side bent grotesquely. She lurched and stumbled but would not allow track helpers to come to her aid because she would have been disqualified.

Eventually, she finished, and was fully recovered in about 12 hours. Her husband, Dick Andersen, was quoted at the time as saying that, had he been able to get to her, he would have made her stop.

But a different story emerged recently when Bob McCarthy, LAOOC marathon manager, who was with the medical staff as Andersen-Scheiss lurched around the final lap, said Dick Andersen had made it down to the track and wasn't encouraging the medical people to make her stop.

In gymnastics, Romanian Ecaterina Szabo, stung by her loss to Mary Lou Retton in the women's all-around, won three individual medals, two gold and a silver, while Retton settled for a silver and two bronze. Kathy Johnson, an American about to turn 25, earned a bronze in the balance beam and was thrilled.

In track, Evelyn Ashford won the women's 100, but didn't parade with a flag afterward, as Carl Lewis had after winning the men's 100 the previous day.

Edwin Moses won race No. 105 in succession, and finals No. 90, for his gold in the 400 hurdles. Eight years earlier, he had done the same thing at Montreal, only in an even faster time that remained the established Olympic record. Moses hadn't lost a 400 hurdles race in seven years.

In cycling, an estimated crowd of 75,000 lined the Artesia freeway to watch the men's cycling team trials. A 17-mile portion of the freeway was closed for the event and organizers were stunned by the number of people who showed up to watch something that, essentially, involves four riders whizzing past every 10 minutes or so.

One spectator, Stuart Solot of Palos Verdes, said, "This was only slightly more exciting than watching grass grow."

The only people really complaining were the riders on the Irish team, who said they would have done better if there had been "some sheep around to make us feel more at home."

Also, on this day, the quipsters got some notice.

The U.S. Olympic Committee's Mike Moran didn't miss a chance while sitting next to Retton at a news conference in which, talking about possible careers, she said she was interested in "both English and journalism."

Moran deadpanned, "The two go hand in hand. Sometimes."

-- Bill Dwyre

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