Joan Benoit Samuelson (born May 16, 1957) is an American marathon runner who won gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, the year that the women's marathon was introduced. As a result she was the first ever women's Olympic marathon champion.
At the 1984 Summer Olympics she won the first Olympic women's marathon in a time of 2:24.52 in hot and smoggy conditions, more than a minute ahead of her rivals; again despite surgery, this time arthroscopic surgery on her knee 17 days before the trials earlier that year. The athletes behind her were Grete Waitz, Rosa Mota and Ingrid Kristiansen, all marathon legends in their own right.
Benoit enjoyed success at non-marathon distances as well, winning the prestigious Falmouth Road Race (7.1 miles) a total of six times (1976, 1978, 1981-1983, and 1985), breaking the course record on four of those occasions.
Although she won the 1985 Chicago marathon, defeating Kristiansen and Mota in an American Record time of 2:21:21 (that would last as the AR 18 years until broken by Deena Kastor in 2003 in London), Benoit was hampered in the years after her Olympic victory by injuries and struggled to compete in major races. She received the 1985 James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States.
Since retirement from competitive running, she has written books including Running Tide and Running for Women, and has opened a running clinic. Aside from this she is a coach to women's cross-country and long-distance athletes, and is a motivational speaker and sports commentator. She also founded the Beach to Beacon Road Race, a 10 km (6.21 mile) race held in Cape Elizabeth, Maine each August that goes from Crescent Beach State Park to Ft. Williams Park and Portland Head Light. The race attracts many of the world's top distance runners. Elite runners often run this race and then, the following weekend, run the Falmouth Road Race on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Benoit has also won that race several times and ran it last in 2005. In 2003, Benoit won the Maine half marathon, defeating a field dominated by runners two decades her junior, and she was (at age 46 at the time) faster than all but six men overall, finishing in 1:18. In 2006 she helped pace former cycling champion Lance Armstrong as he competed in the New York City Marathon. At the 2008 US Olympic Team trials, at the age of 50, she finished in 2:49:08, setting a new US 50+ record and beating her personal goal of a mid-2:50s retirement marathon. Benoit resides in Freeport, Maine.
She features on the Nike+ iPod system as one of the congratulatory voices, along with the likes of Lance Armstrong. Benoit and husband Scott Samuelson have two children, daughter Abby and son Anders.