Joan Benoit Samuelson twice won the Boston Marathon and then won the first women's Olympic marathon in 1984 in Los Angeles. Now 54, Benoit Samuelson was in Columbia on Friday to promote the first Columbia Iron Girl Half Marathon, scheduled for April 2012. The Columbia Iron Girl will hold its annual triathlon today.

How did you become involved with the Tri-Columbia organization?

[Founder] Robert Vigorito asked me if I'd be interested in coming down and helping promote the event and be part of the event. Anything that promotes health and wellness amongst women and girls is something I'm very interested in. I just think the more people we can get interested in our sport, the healthier we're going to be as a population.

Do the two events, the half-marathon next April and today's triathlon work together in terms of training, or are they two different types of events?

They're two different types of events, but there are some people in the triathlon who are part of a relay and just doing the running piece. If a woman decides to join a team, she might be running her first 5K ever, and if she has a positive experience, she will probably accept the challenge of trying to run a half-marathon in April.

With the recent triathlon fatalities in New York City, should event officials in Columbia and other places take a harder look at entries and have participants meet certain qualifications?

Unfortunately there are deaths that take place in just about every sport. It's a runner's responsibility to know whether or not she or he is healthy enough to particpate in an event. People have heart attacks on golf courses, people go down at finish lines, people ski into trees; it's an inherent risk involved in any physical activity.

You did your first triathlon in 2007. How did that come about, and will there be any more in the future?

I had that on my bucket list as I turned 50. It was in Berwick, Maine. I crosstrain regularly — I do a lot of swimming, I do a lot of cycling. I do a lot of downhill and Nordic skiing. I am still focused on my running, but I can see myself doing triathlons regularly as I age. I will be in a new age group next year when the Columbia Iron Girl Tri rolls around. Maybe I'll come down and do it.

Do you think you would have been an Olympic triathlete had the event existed back then?

I think I could have easily been a triathlete as I could have been a soccer player. I was in high school right as Title IX was passing, so those opportunities were not there for me. It's hard to say whether I would have pursued soccer or triathlon if they had been available when I was coming up at the height of my career. It's entirely possible I could have followed either route.

Don Markus