Running film focuses on breaking the Olympic marathon gender barrier

April 23, 2013
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It’s hard to believe now, but 30 years ago women didn’t run Olympic marathons.
The International Olympic Committee considered races longer than 1,500 meters to be “too strenuous for women,” according to the book “Olympic Marathon” by Charlie Lovett.

The women in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles proved the IOC wrong, and American Joan Benoit-Samuelson proved everybody wrong, winning the gold medal despite having knee surgery only 17 days earlier.

A film on Samuelson, “There Is No Finish Line,” will show Wednesday at Stargazers Theatre in Colorado Springs, the feature presentation at the Running Film Festival, sponsored by the American Trail Running Association.

Coming less than 10 days after the Boston Marathon, organizers ask anyone who has run that race to wear their jersey for a group photo.

Local athletes who ran with Samuelson will talk about the race that cemented the women’s marathon in Olympic competition and lore.

“It was hugely momentous, in terms of women running and the excitement that it brought with it,” said Springs resident Lisa Rainsberger, who was an alternate on the 1984 marathon team.

The film covers Samuelson’s accomplishments, from the Olympics to her life in Maine.
Rainsberger said many female runners might not know about the gender bias that once ruled the Games. After several women collapsed in the 1928 Olympics during the first 800-meter race, the chairman of the IOC suggested ending all women’s Olympic events. The 1,500-meter race was added in 1972.

“We’ve come so far,” Rainsberger said. “People just assume, ‘There’s a men’s marathon, why wouldn’t there be a women’s marathon?’ She (Samuelson) created the possibility for every young girl to go, ‘Yeah, I want to do that.’”

And to win less than three weeks after surgery was incredible, then and now.

“Really it didn’t dawn on you until after the fact, two or three Olympiads down the road, what a momentous occasion that it was for women,” she said.

Also showing at the festival will be “Running the Rockpile,” a 2011 documentary on the Mount Washington Road Race in New Hampshire. Several Springs veterans will attend, including Simon Gutierrez, who will be inducted into the race’s hall of fame this summer.

The short film “A Runner’s Life” also will be shown. A Colorado College film project by Alex Nichols, it is about CC cross country and track coach Ted Castaneda.

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