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40 greatest female athletes: Joan Benoit

Prior to Joan Benoit's gold-medal performance in 1984, the longest Olympic event for female runners was the 1,500 meters. AP Photo/Lennox McLendon

ESPN is marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX by unveiling the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years

The next time you're struggling with a training run, think of Joan Benoit.

In 1984, she won the U.S. Olympic marathon trials a mere 17 days after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.

Benoit then went on to capture gold in the inaugural women's Olympic marathon at the Los Angeles Games and introduced elite women's distance running to a global audience. A few hundred meters from the finish line, the typically reserved Benoit took off her cap and waved it to acknowledge the crowd. She finished nearly a minute and a half ahead of the second-place finisher, with a time of 2:24:52, a mark that stood as an Olympic record until 2000.

She is No. 31 in ESPN's countdown.

Read the complete story from espnW here.

Earlier in this series:

No. 40: Diver Fu Mingxia

No. 39: Jockey Julie Krone

No. 38: Gymnast Mary Lou Retton

No. 37: Hockey player Cammi Granato

No. 36: Soccer player Kristine Lilly

No. 35: Basketball player Diana Taurasi

No 34: Volleyball player Flo Hyman

No. 33: Soccer player Abby Wambach

No. 32: Swimmer Mary T. Meagher