Olympians Joan Benoit Samuelson, winner of the 1st ever Women’s Olympic Marathon, and Anita L. DeFrantz, Olympic medalist, IOC member, and LA84 Foundation President Emeritus, were honored today with plaques in the LA Memorial Coliseum’s Court of Honor. They were celebrated for their impact on the history, growth and glory of the Coliseum, with ceremonies led by Renata Simril, President and CEO of the LA84 Foundation and Mark Ridley-Thomas, Los Angeles County Supervisor and moderated by NBC4 Southern California’s Lolita Lopez.
The two pioneers are the first female athletes commemorated in the Court of Honor since Babe Didrikson in 1961, the first woman to gain inclusion. LA84’s tireless efforts to level the playing field in women’s sport are reflected here, more than 50 years later, as the new plaques honoring two game-changers in women’s sport join the nearly 60 already etched in Coliseum lore. The LA84 Foundation serves as a thought leader as well and has established and funded programs to increase the number and engagement of girls in youth sports.
Both honorees are directly connected to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Benoit Samuelson won the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon, finishing inside the Coliseum. DeFrantz was a vice president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and ran the Olympic Village at the University of Southern California, near the Coliseum. She later served as president of the LA84 Foundation, the legacy of those Games.
The event was co-sponsored by the Office of County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Benoit Samuelson was introduced to the stage by Yvette Carbajal, a young athlete in the LA84-funded Students Run LA program that trains high schoolers to run the LA8 Marathon. DeFrantz was introduced by Michelle Castanaza Gudiel, a young rower in the LA84-funded RowLA program that continues to carry to teach young girls to row. “If you have the passion and the support, then anything is possible,” Benoit Samuelson said alongside DeFrantz in an onstage interview conducted by Lopez.
“We at LA84 are proud to honor not one, but two pioneering women athletes whose contributions on and off the field are nothing short of transcendent. Joan Benoit Samuelson and Anita DeFrantz showed girls across the world how a sporting dream can spring into reality, and inspire our work every day to keep closing the gender gap in sports,” said Renata Simril, President and CEO of the LA84 Foundation.
“The Coliseum Court of Honor welcomes two extraordinary athletes who exemplify the Olympic spirit and paved the way for women to excel in sports at the highest level,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor and Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We celebrate Joan Benoit Samuelson and Anita DeFrantz for their achievements as Olympians and as role models.”
Joan Benoit Samuelson has a name synonymous with women’s running. In 1984, she became the first woman to win the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. In 2009, she was inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame. Currently, she serves as a consultant to Nike and as a clinician. She is also an experienced motivational speaker and has authored two books, Running Tide and Joan Samuelson’s Running for Women.
“Crossing the finish line in the LA Coliseum in the first women’s Olympic Marathon was an opportunity that I had only dreamed of as a young girl. Today, we celebrate the many women pioneers who made that moment possible while celebrating the accomplishments of women who live their dreams through access to sport,” said Benoit Samuelson.
Anita DeFrantz is a 1976 Olympic rowing bronze medalist and 1980 U.S. Olympic Team member. From 1981-1984, DeFrantz became vice president of the Olympic Village for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. Following the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, she joined the staff of the LA84 Foundation, which was established to manage the surplus from those Olympic Games. She then served as LA84 Foundation’s president from 1987-2015 and remains President Emeritus. In 1986, she was elected a member of the International Olympic Committee and has remained one ever since.
Today, DeFrantz is the Senior Advisor for Legacy at LA 2024, LA’s bid to bring the Games back to the US for the first time in 28 years, where she uses her experience with the LA84 Foundation to inform the 2024 Games’ potential legacy. She is also a member of four IOC commissions – Finances, Legal Affairs, Olympic Channel and the Coordination for the Tokyo 2020 Games. DeFrantz also serves on the board of directors for the Los Angeles Sports Council.
“We all know that women’s sport historically has been underreported. I’m thrilled that women’s accomplishments will be celebrated at the Coliseum with these plaques,” said DeFrantz.