THE HISTORY OF THE MARATHON: PART 2
By Mindy Solkin
Owner and Head Coach
The Running Center
Michel Breal's idea for creating a long competitive race, which became known immediately as the "marathon", caught on quickly in the United States. Several members of the Boston Athletic Association, including champion runner Arthur Blake, ran the first marathon in the United States in September 1896 (from Connecticut to New York City). The following April, on Patriot's Day, 1897, the first Boston Marathon was run.
The 40K distance (25.8 miles) remained until the 1908 Olympic Games in London. Those Games started with a heavy dose of protest between the American and British athletes. The trouble began when the Americans arrived at the stadium for the opening ceremonies. Of all the flags of participating nations displayed around the stadium, no U.S. flag waved among them. When U.S. officials protested, a British official said they couldn't find an American flag.
Once the flag was found, the hard feelings between the two nations escalated to British outrage when, during the opening ceremonies, the American flag-bearer, Ralph Rose, neglected to dip the U.S. flag when passing before the King of England. Later, after the British public and press had severely criticized the Americans for this obvious display of disrespect for British royalty, Irish-American Martin Sheridan stated, "This flag dips to no earthly kings." No one is certain today if Sheridan was speaking for himself or if he was an official spokesman for the American team, but the tradition has continued ever since.
Public interest in the 1908 Olympics was not great at first, but as the Games progressed, crowds grew in size. The marathon would be run on the final day of track and field. Realizing the Olympic marathon distance should be standardized, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) decided the official distance would be 26 miles; no more and no less.
However, that decision would not hold true as the distance was changed to 26 miles and 385 yards to appease the royal family. When the 26-mile course was measured, it started in front of Windsor Castle so that the two grandsons of King Edward and Queen Alexandra had a good view of the start. But when the finish line, which was in the Olympic stadium, was determined, it finished across the field from the box where the royal family would be sitting. When Queen Alexandra arrived at the stadium and saw this, she insisted that the finish line be in front of the royal box, as it was for all other races. Hence, the additional "point two" making the official distance, 26.2 miles.
© 2003 The Running Center™ All Rights Reserved
Mindy Solkin is the Owner and Head Coach of The Running CenterTM. She is
certified by USA Track & Field (USATF) as a Level III Running Coach (the
highest level) and by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) as a personal
Known as "Coach Mindy" to her runners, she has coached thousands of people
over the past ten years, helping them to achieve their goals on the open
roads and the winding trail, whether it is running their first mile or
pursuing their personal best in the marathon.
Mindy was the creator of the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society's Team In Training
marathon program in New York City and served as its Head Coach from 1994
through 2001. From 1995 through 2002 training over 3,000 runners to run marathons in cities around the world, Mindy was the Head Coach at Reebok
Sports Club/NY. She is also the creator of the Polar Heart Bra® and has been
a PowerBar® Team Elite athlete since 1994. She can be reached at www.TheRunningCenter.com.