The First Boston Marathon
After experiencing the spirit and majesty of the Olympic Marathon, B.A.A. member and inaugural US Olympic Team Manager John Graham was inspired to organize and conduct a marathon in the Boston area. With the assistance of Boston businessman Herbert H. Holton, various routes were considered, before a measured distance of 24.5 miles from Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland to the Irvington Oval in Boston was eventually selected. On April 19, 1897, John J. McDermott of New York, emerged from a 15-member starting field and captured the first B.A.A. Marathon in 2:55:10, and, in the process, forever secured his name in sports history.
In 1924, the course was lengthened to 26 miles, 385 yards to conform to the Olympic standard, and the starting line was moved west from Ashland to Hopkinton.
The Marathon Distance
The 1896 Olympic marathon distance of 24.8 miles was based on the distance run, according to famous Greek legend, in which the Greek foot-soldier Pheidippides was sent from the plains of Marathon to Athens with the news of the astounding victory over a superior Persian army. Exhausted as he approached the leaders of the City of Athens, he staggered and gasped, “Rejoice! We Conquer!” and then collapsed.
The marathon distance was later changed as a result of the 1908 Olympic Games in London. That year, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandria wanted the marathon race to begin at Windsor Castle outside the city so that the Royal family could view the start. The distance between the castle and the Olympic Stadium in London proved to be 26 miles. Organizers added extra yards to the finish around a track, 385 to be exact, so the runners would finish in front of the king and queen’s royal box. Every Olympic marathon run since the 1908 Games has been a distance of 26 miles, 385 yards.
On a Monday: The Patriots’ Day Race
From 1897-1968, the Boston Marathon was held on Patriots’ Day, April 19, a holiday commemorating the start of the Revolutionary War and recognized only in Massachusetts and Maine. The lone exception was when the 19th fell on Sunday. In those years, the race was held the following day (Monday the 20th). However, in 1969, the holiday was officially moved to the third Monday in April. Since 1969 the race has been held on a Monday. The last non-Monday champion was current Runner’s World editor Amby Burfoot, who posted a time of 2:22:17 on Friday, April 19, 1968.
Women Run to the Front
Roberta Gibb was the first woman to run the full Boston Marathon in 1966. Gibb, who did not run with an official race number during any of the three years (1966-68) that she was the first female finisher, hid in the bushes near the start until the race began. In 1967, Katherine Switzer did not clearly identify herself as a female on the race application and was issued a bibnumber. B.A.A. officials tried unsuccessfully to physically remove Switzer from the race once she was identified as a woman entrant. At the time of Switzer’s run, the Amateur Athletics Union (A.A.U.) had yet to formally accept participation of women in long distance running. When the A.A.U. permitted its sanctioned marathons (including Boston) to allow women entry in the fall of1971, Nina Kuscsik’s 1972 B.A.A. victory the following spring made her the first official champion. Eight women started that race and all eight finished.
First to Sponsor the Wheelchair Division
The Boston Marathon became the first major marathon to include a wheelchair division competition when it officially recognized Bob Hall in 1975. With a time of two hours, 58 minutes, he collected on a promise by then Race Director Will Cloney that if he finished in less than three hours, he would receive an official B.A.A. Finisher’s Certificate. American wheelchair competitors Jean Driscoll and Jim Knaub helped to further establish and popularize the division.
Olympic Champions at Boston
Three-time defending women’s champion Fatuma Roba became the fourth person to win the Olympic Games Marathon and the B.A.A. Boston Marathon when she posted a 2:26:23 to win the 1997 Boston Marathon. Roba, who won the 1996 Olympic Marathon, joined fellow-women’s champions Joan Benoit, who won Boston in 1979 and 1983, before adding the 1984 Olympic Games title; and Rosa Mota (POR), who won a trio of Boston crowns (1987, 1988, and 1990), while adding the 1988 Olympic title. Gelindo Bordin (ITA) is the only male to win the Olympic (1988) and Boston (1990) titles.
Boston Marathon Facts:
Boston Athletic Association: Among the nation’s oldest athletic clubs, the B.A.A. was established in 1887, and, in 1896, more than half of the U.S. Olympic Team at the first modern games was comprised of B.A.A. club members. The Olympic Games provided the inspiration for the first Boston Marathon, which culminated the B.A.A. Games on April 19, 1897. John J. McDermott emerged from a 15-member starting field to complete the course (then 24.5 miles) in a winning time of 2:55:10. The Boston Marathon has since become the world’s oldest annually contested marathon. The addition of principal sponsor John Hancock in 1986 has solidified the event’s success and ensures it well into the future.
Patriots’ Day: Since its inception, the Boston Marathon has been held on the holiday commemorating Patriots’ Day. From 1897-1968, the Boston Marathon was held on April 19, unlessthe 19th fell on a Sunday. Since 1969, the holiday has been officially recognized on the third Monday in April. The last non-Monday champion was current Runner’s World editor Amby Burfoot, who posted a time of 2:22:17 on Friday, April 19, 1968.
Record Field Size at Boston: The all-time record for the world’s largest marathon was established at the centennial race in 1996, when 35,868 finishers out of 36,748 official starters participated in the 100th running of the Boston Marathon. The Centennial Boston Marathon had 38,708 entrants and was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records.
Four Olympic Champions Have Won Boston: Three-time women’s champion Fatuma Roba (ETH) became the fourth person to win the Olympic Games Marathon and the B.A.A. Boston Marathon, when she posted a time of 2:26:23 to win the 1997 Boston Marathon. Roba, who won the 1996 Olympic Marathon, joined fellow women’s champions Joan Benoit Samuelson, who won Boston in 1979 and 1983, before adding the 1984 Olympic Games title; and Rosa Mota (POR), who won a trio of Boston crowns (1987, 1988, and 1990), while adding the 1988 Olympic title. Gelindo Bordin (ITA) is the only male to have won the Olympic (1988) and Boston (1990) titles.
Most Boston Marathons: The legendary John A. Kelley started a record 61 Boston Marathons and finished 58. Kelley, who won the race in 1935 and 1945, first competed in the race in 1928,but it was not until 1933, in his third attempt, that he completed the course, placing 37th in 3:03:56. He last completed the course in 1992 at the age of 84. Kelley, who lived to be 97 (1907-2004), had a larger than life-size sculpture, entitled “Young at Heart,” created in his likeness and dedicated in his name at the base of Heartbreak Hill, a landmark which had its name coined in reference to one of Kelley’s seven runner-up performances. The sculpture stands in tribute to his longevity and spirit. From 1995 through 2004, Kelley, a three-time U.S. Olympian, served as the Boston Marathon’s grand marshal (missing only 1999 due to illness). He preceded the race in a pace car. Kelley is a member of both the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame and the National Road Running Distance Hall of Fame. He was selected as “The Runner of the Century,” by Runner’s World magazine, for his contributions to the sport of running and the millions of athletes who he has inspired.
Only B.A.A. Running Club Champion: The only B.A.A. Club member to win the Boston Marathon was John J. Kelley, who established a then-course record 2:20:05 to capture the 1957 race. Kelley finished second on five other occasions. A runner from the B.A.A. has finished in the runner-up spot on ten different occasions, including Patti Lyons [Dillon] in 1979, 1980 and 1981.
First to Sponsor Wheelchair Division: The Boston Marathon became the first major marathon to include a wheelchair division competition when it officially recognized Bob Hall in 1975.
Second Largest Single Day Sporting Event: In terms of on-site media coverage, the Boston Marathon ranks behind only the Super Bowl as the largest single day sporting event in the world. More than 1,100 media members, representing more than 250 outlets, receive credentials annually.
Spectators: Approximately 500,000 spectators line the 26.2-mile course annually, making the Boston Marathon New England’s most widely viewed sporting event, according to estimates by police and public safety officials from the eight cities and towns along the route.
Charity Program: The Boston Marathon Charity Program enables selected charitable organizations to raise millions of dollars for worthwhile causes. In 2012, 31 charities raised more than $11 million.
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