On 18 April 1983, Joan Benoit won the Boston Marathon in a time of 2:22:43. This time still stood as the world best when the inaugural women's Olympic marathon was held on 5 August 1984. Benoit qualified for the Games by winning the U.S. Olympic trial only seventeen days after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on her right knee.
At the Olympic Games, Benoit was the co-favourite along with Norway's Grete Waitz, who had won all seven marathons she had completed. Waitz had also beaten Benoit ten of the eleven times they had met at various distances. This time, however, Benoit took the lead after only fourteen minutes and pulled away at will, amazed that no one went with her. By the time Waitz began reeling her in after 30km, it was too late. Benoit won the race by 400m.