By Ros Krasny

BOSTON (Reuters) - Legendary U.S. marathon runner Joan Benoit Samuelson announced on Monday that she will enter next week's Boston Marathon, for the first time since 1993, in a possible bid to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.

"This was something I was thinking about since the beginning of the year. I've done a lot of 20-mile runs through the course of our long Maine winter," Samuelson said on a conference call.

Samuelson inspired a generation of runners by winning the first Olympic women's marathon, in Los Angeles in 1984, against a star-studded field.

One month short of her 54th birthday she is still an elite performer and will be shooting for a time of two hours forty six minutes or less to punch her ticket to the trials, scheduled to be run in Houston in January.

If she qualifies it would be Samuelson's fifth Olympic trials race, after she swore that the 2008 trials, at age 50, would be her last.

Speaking to reporters, Samuelson downplayed the potential for a qualifying time.

"I can't do that to myself. I'm thinking about coming back to Boston for the first time in 18 years and running on familiar ground," she said. "I'm not getting any younger ... it would be nice to break 2:50 again."

Samuelson's daughter Abby, 23, will run the race as well.

Samuelson won her first of two Boston Marathons in 1979, when she was a 21-year-old student at Bowdoin College in her home state of Maine.

She set a world record in winning Boston again in 1983 in 2:22:43, a time that is still the fourth fastest in the race's history. Last year's winner, Teyba Erkesso of Ethiopia was more than three minutes slower.

"Joan is a running legend and perhaps the greatest marathoner the United States has ever produced," said Tom Grilk, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association.

Samuelson is one of only four Boston Marathon champions of either gender who have also won gold in the Olympic marathon.

She narrowly missed a trials qualifying time at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 2010.

The 115th Boston Marathon will take place on April 18.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Frank Pingue; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)