The 124th annual running of the Boston Marathon was scheduled for this coming Monday – Patriots’ Day, as always. Due to the pandemic, it has been postponed for the first time in history. If things go as planned, 30,000 or more runners will instead take to the streets on September 14.
The Boston Marathon is the oldest continuously run marathon in the world. It was first staged in 1897, a year after the introduction of the modern Olympic marathon. And it has followed the exact same 26.2-mile course since 1924, ending on Boylston Street in downtown Boston. It is one of the six races in the world that attract the greatest living marathoners.
Race or no race, this week marks the anniversary of a tragic moment in Boston history. On April 15, 2013, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev detonated two homemade pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of the marathon. The blasts killed 3 and traumatically injured over 260. The event is remembered each year on “One Boston Day,” which features gatherings and service projects “aimed at honoring the victims and reflecting on the city’s resiliency in its aftermath.” Although the gatherings did not take place this year, the Old South Church tolled its bells in commemoration, and a long line of police, fire, and EMS vehicles paraded past the cities largest medical centers.
Yet the bombing is certainly not the only historic moment surrounding the Boston Marathon. The event has witnessed more than a century of memorable achievements.
John A. Kelley, the marathon’s most celebrated participant, ran his first marathon in 1928. He then competed every year after that until 1992 except for 1968 when he underwent hernia surgery. In all, “Old John” finished the torturous challenge 58 times. Moreover, he won the event twice and finished in second place six times.
Shortly after World War II a civil war erupted in Greece. A young resistance fighter named Stylianos Kyriakides sold furniture in order to purchase a flight to America. His goal – to win the Boston Marathon. And, in April of 1946, he did just that, besting his personal record by 14 minutes. Kyriakides leveraged the achievement to call attention to the plight of his countrymen who had suffered under Nazi occupation. He returned to Greece with 25,000 tons of American Aid and $250,000 in donations and received a hero’s welcome in Athens.
In 1966, Bobbi Gibb took a four-day bus trip from San Diego to Massachusetts. The 23-year-old artist had trained for two years for the Boston Marathon. However, there was one small problem: the event did not permit women runners. In fact, at that time, the maximum women’s race distance permitted by the Amateur Athletic Union was just 1.5 miles. It was generally accepted that a woman could not come close to completing a full 26.2 miles. Gibb snuck into the race, hid herself amidst a pack of male competitors, and finished in 3 hours and 21 minutes. Indeed, the first female competitor in the Boston Marathon bested two-thirds of the men. The sports world was initially in disbelief, until an abundance of eye witnesses confirmed that Gibb had actually run the entire race. 30 years later, at the 100th running of the marathon, the Boston Athletic Association officially recognized her as the winner of the 1966 women’s division.
One year after the bombings, Meb Keflezighi stepped to the starting line of the Boston Marathon. Although he had achieved great things in his running career – including winning the New York City Marathon in 2009 – the 38-year-old was not a favorite in this outing. He was past his prime, many believed. However, with the names of some of the bombing victims written on his bib, he broke away from the pack for a shocking, emotional victory. He was the oldest man to win the race since 1930, and the first American winner in 31 years.
“Every runner has a specific motivation and inspiration for running a marathon. This year, all 36,000 of us will ‘run together’ to demonstrate the spirit of the marathon. We will still have our individual motivations, but we will be unified under the Boston Strong umbrella.”Meb Keflezighi, 2014