Boston Marathon


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Boston Marathon

Type of Holiday: Sporting
Date of Observation: Third Monday in April
Where Celebrated: Boston, Massachusetts
Symbols and Customs: Heartbreak Hill, Laurel Wreath, Unicorn
Related Holidays: Olympic Games

ORIGINS

The oldest footrace in the United States was first held on Patriots' Day, April 19, in 1897. Organized by members of the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), the race involved only fifteen runners. Nowadays the Boston Marathon, which has been held on the third Monday in April since 1969, draws more than 20,000 official starters, who must meet established qualifying times. Several thousand additional runners participate on an unofficial basis. To date, the record field size occurred in the 1996 centennial run, with 36,748 official starters and 35,868 runners finishing the race. In 1972, it became the first marathon to officially admit women runners.

The 26.2-mile course begins in Hopkinton and ends in front of downtown Boston's Prudential Center. It is based on the long-distance footrace first held at the revival of the OLYMPIC GAMES in 1896, which commemorated the legendary feat of a Greek soldier who is supposed to have run from Marathon to Athens, a distance of about twenty-five miles, to bring news of the Athenian victory over the Persians in B . C . E . Appropriately, the first modern marathon winner in 1896 was a Greek, Spiros Louis.

The Olympic marathon distance was standardized at twenty-six miles, 385 yards in 1924. The extra 385 yards were added to accommodate the distance from Windsor Castle, where the 1908 Olympic race began, to the royal box in the stadium at London.

Runners from all over the world come to Boston to compete in the marathon, which is considered one of the most prestigious running events in the world. Wellknown American winners include the "old" John Kelley, who won twice and continued to complete the race well into his eighties; the "young" John Kelley (no relation), who was the first American victor in the post-World War II era; "Tarzan" Brown, who in 1938 took a break at the nine-mile mark for a quick swim in Lake Cochichuate; and Bill Rodgers, who won three consecutive marathons in 1978-80. Among the women, Rosa Mota of Portugal was the first to win three official Boston Marathon titles. And few people will forget the infamous Rosie Ruiz in 1980, who many believed tried to defraud the BAA by showing up at the end of the race to capture the women's LAUREL WREATH without having actually run the full distance. This was later substantiated by television coverage of certain checkpoints. Jackie Gareau of Canada was later declared the women's winner, although Ruiz continued to insist that she'd run the race fairly.

BY 1988 the Boston Marathon became the OLYMPIC GAMES marathon trial for nine African countries, leading to what organizers called "the African running revolution." From 1988 to 2000, all but one winner in the men's division hailed from Africa, and every winner from 1991 to 2007 was from Kenya with the exception of two years, 2001 (winner was Korean) and 2005 (winner was from Ethiopia).

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Heartbreak Hill

Probably the best-known stretch of the course covered by the Boston Marathon is located at the twenty-first mile. It is a section of Commonwealth Avenue in Newton Centre known as "Heartbreak Hill," and it has literally been the downfall of many marathon competitors. Occurring as it does more than two-thirds of the way to the finish line, when many runners have expended most of their energy, the incline poses more of a challenge than non-runners can appreciate.

Laurel Wreath

The laurel wreath that is placed on the heads of the first male and female runners to cross the finish line in the Boston Marathon is a traditional symbol of victory that dates back to very ancient times. The laurel tree was sacred to Apollo, the ancient Greek and Roman god of light, healing, music, poetry, prophecy, and manly beauty. The leaves of the laurel were used to weave garlands and crowns for festivals, and the crowning of a poet, artist, or hero with laurel leaves signified that he had overcome many obstacles and negative influences-whether internal or external-to achieve his goal.

Unicorn

Chosen as the BAA's symbol ten years before the first Boston Marathon, the unicorn was selected as the marathon's logo as well. The unicorn appears on the marathon's medals and represents an unattainable goal for which competitors reach. In their pursuit, they cannot achieve perfection, but they can come close to excellence. This idea is central to the world of sports, where athletes are constantly striving to improve.

FURTHER READING

Christianson, Stephen G., and Jane M. Hatch. The American Book of Days. 4th ed. New York: H.W. Wilson, 2000. Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, 1962.

WEB SITE

Boston Athletic Association, Boston Marathon's Official Web Site www.bostonmarathon.org

Boston Marathon

Third Monday in April
The oldest footrace in the United States was first held on Patriots' Day, April 19, 1897. Organized by members of the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), the race involved only 15 runners. Nowadays the Boston Marathon draws anywhere from 7,000 to more than 9,000 official starters, who must meet established qualifying times. Several thousand additional runners participate on an unofficial basis. In 1972, it became the first marathon to officially admit women runners, and in 1975 a wheelchair division was created.
The 26.2-mile course begins exactly at noon in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, includes the infamous "Heartbreak Hill" (a section of Commonwealth Avenue in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, that marks the race's 21st mile), and ends near Copley Square in the Back Bay Area.
Well-known American winners of the Boston Marathon include the "old" John Kelley, who won twice and last completed the race in 1992 when he was 84; the "young" John J. Kelley (no relation), who was the first American victor in the post-World War II era; and "Tarzan" Brown, who in 1938 took a break at the nine-mile mark for a quick swim in Lake Cochichuate.
Among the women, Rosa Mota of Portugal was the first to win three official Boston Marathon titles. And few people will forget the infamous Rosie Ruiz in 1980, who many believed tried to defraud the BAA by showing up at the end of the race to capture the women's laurel wreath, the traditional symbol of victory, without having actually run the full distance; this was substantiated by television coverage of certain checkpoints. Jackie Gareau of Canada was later declared the women's winner, although Ruiz continued to insist that she'd run the race fairly.
By 1988 the Boston Marathon became the Olympic Marathon trial for nine African countries, leading to what organizers call "the African running revolution." In 1988, a Kenyan runner, Ibrahim Hussein, won the Marathon, becoming the first African to do so. Since then, from 1988 to 2008, all but one winner in the men's division hailed from Africa. That impressive run included two Ethiopians, with all the rest of the winners coming from Kenya.
CONTACTS:
Boston Athletic Association
40 Trinity Pl., 4th Fl.
Boston, MA 02116
617-236-1652; fax: 617-236-4505
www.bostonmarathon.org
SOURCES:
AnnivHol-2000, p. 73
HolSymbols-2009, p. 92

Boston marathon

famous 26-mile race held annually for long-distance runners. [Am. Pop. Culture: Misc.]
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