Memphis’ oldest footrace welcomes star-studded trio this weekend

Joan Benoit Samuelson (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Joan Benoit Samuelson (Source: Wikimedia Commons)(WMC Action News 5)
Updated: Oct. 26, 2018 at 9:09 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Joan Benoit Samuelson, one of the greatest runners in American history, set foot in Memphis on Friday, October 26.

“I’m very much looking forward to the weekend, I’m not sure I’ve ever been to Memphis,” said the now 61-year-old running legend.

Winner of the very first Women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984, Benoit Samuelson is one of a trio of track and field luminaries coming for Memphis’ oldest footrace, the annual Overton Park 5 Mile Classic.

This weekend marks the 45th year for the race and will be held Sunday, Oct. 28 at 8 a.m.

“I pick and choose carefully,” Benoit Samuelson said about her participation in running events like the OP5MC across the country.

Bill Rodgers, the four-time winner of both the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon, returns to the Overton Park 5 Mile Classic for a second straight year.

Benoit Samuelsson says Rodgers helped convince her to make the Memphis trip.

“He told me about all the hospitality,” Benoit Samuelson said.

Rounding out the star-studded OP5MC line up is another Olympic Gold Medalist, 1972 800 Meter Champion Dave Wottle, the running star known to many Memphians from his years as Dean of Admissions at Rhodes College.

Christian Brothers University will host a free panel discussion where runners are invited to bring their questions for the star-studded trio Saturday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m.

“She opened the door for all women runners,” said OP5MC organizer Paul Sax, a veteran Memphis running coach.

Joan Benoit became a household name in 1984 when she made a bold move in the Olympics inaugural Women’s Marathon held in Los Angeles.

Benoit broke away from the field at the five-mile mark and never looked back, running straight into Olympic history by going the last 21 miles alone.

Amazingly, the gifted runner underwent arthroscopic surgery 17 days before the 1984 Women’s Olympic Marathon trials and won that race, setting the stage for her astounding Olympic performance.

“Before her marathon victory, women represented less than 10% of marathon finishers; they represent more than 40 percent today,” said Sax.

Benoit was already a star after setting a new American women’s marathon record (2:35:15) in the 1979 Boston Marathon.

“The next Boston Marathon on April 15, 2019 will be the 40th anniversary of my 1979 win,” said Benoit Samuelson. “I’d like to be there but need to be healthy.”

Benoit has deep experience in recovering from injury and returning to elite running form.

“It’s a blessing in disguise as runners don’t generally take enough breaks; you have to gut it out,” Benoit Samuelson said of running down time due to injury.

“Listen to your body more than anything” is the advice she gives runners on the mend. Swimming and cycling are her go-to cross training preferences when injury causes a running time out.

Nordic skiing and working on strengthening her upper body become a focus when it’s time to take a break from logging miles.

“I don’t have a lot of speed right now,” said Benoit Samuelson of her current running status.

No woman in the world could match Benoit’s speed in her prime: her 2:22:43 world record performance in Boston’s 1983 marathon is regarded as one of the greatest long-distance running achievements of all time.

Memphis’ oldest footrace is not exactly built for speed, but it is a lot of fun! Runners will experience the asphalt roads inside Overton Park before looping through forest trails and the soft footing of grass on open fields.

The race ends at the park’s East Parkway pavilion. There, awards will go to the top three finishers in each age group, plus Masters and Grand Masters divisions.

Call (901) 722-8797 or (901) 754-8254 for more information. $30 pre-registration, $35 day of race, field is limited to 400 so register now at this link and run with the stars on Sunday morning!

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