The Most Incredible Final Lap in Olympic Marathon History | Strangest Moments


The Olympic marathon
affords its runners at least one moment of glory. After more than 25 miles of
punishment along city streets – that’s more than
40,000 metres – the final lap of the race takes place inside the Olympic
Stadium. When an athlete arrives
at the stadium and hears the roar of the
crowd, the pain and the suffering
becomes worthwhile. Amazingly, the 1984 Marathon
in Los Angeles was the first time that moment of glory could be
experienced by female athletes. Before the 1984 Games, the longest race available for
women was the 1,500 metres. Women had been barred from track-and-field
competition altogether until 1928, where the 800
metres was the longest race
they were permitted to run. Olympic officials considered
long-distance running to be too demanding for women. The Los Angeles marathon was
a huge step towards equality, and the crowd knew it. The noise that greeted
the USA’s Joan Benoit as she entered the stadium, becoming the first female
marathon winner in history, was spine-tingling. She won by nearly
a minute and a half. But not everyone came
bursting into the stadium riding a crest of adrenaline. Here, for instance, is how Gabriela Andersen-Schiess
of Switzerland entered the Los Angeles
Coliseum on August 5th 1984. Just look at her go. OK, perhaps Andersen-Schiess
is not the best example of record-breaking speed, but the performance of
this 39-year-old Swiss athlete is far more memorable than
anything even the winner managed
that day. Despite battling heat
exhaustion, and seemingly on the brink of
complete physical collapse, she got around the course. Sometimes, one lap of the track can seem like a very long way
to go. The crowd in the stadium sensed that it was seeing something
special. It stood to applaud
her every uncertain step. Marathons are never easy,
but this one was brutal. The race had started that day
in Santa Monica, with temperatures of
around 19 degrees Celsius. But by the time the race ended,
it was up around 25 degrees. But more troubling than that
was the humidity – that was climbing close to 95%. Andersen-Schiess later admitted that she didn’t acclimatise
properly to the conditions in Los
Angeles. Crucially, she missed
the last aid station before getting to the stadium. She failed to take on water
when her body needed it most. By the time she arrived
to the stadium, a staggering bundle of agony, Joan Benoit had been
the champion for about 20 minutes. Benoit ran way ahead of the
pack after about 15km and never looked back. When Andersen-Schiess appeared, she was running on willpower
alone. Medics immediately ran to her
aid, but Andersen-Schiess
shooed them away – if they gave her assistance
she would be disqualified. It was no idle threat –
there was precedent. Italy’s Dorando Pietri had
his gold medal revoked in 1908, when he had been helped
across the line. Andersen-Schiess didn’t
have a gold medal at stake but her pride was on the line. The medics saw that
Andersen-Schiess was still perspiring, which was a good thing. It meant she did not
have heat stroke. The medical situation was not
as dire as might be feared. They allowed her to make her
journey to the finish line unassisted. When she got to the line after 5 minutes and 44 seconds
on the track, Andersen-Schiess finally broke
down. Her time of 2 hours
48 minutes and 44 seconds placed her 37th of
the 44 runners who finished. It wasn’t gold-medal pace, but it was something to be
proud of. Few performances
have ever represented the spirit of competition,
determination and grit as much as that lap by
Gabriela Andersen-Schiess, and it made a mockery
of the old idea that female athletes lacked
the heart and the willpower to take on the toughest
long-distance challenge of all.

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