Seeing as it’s the London Marathon weekend, let’s indulge ourselves in one of the most inspirational Marathon races in history, which also took place in the capitol of Britain: London.
In the late 19th – early 20th century, the Marathon distance was defined as any distance from 25 miles to 26 miles, it wasn’t until the 2008 Olympic games in London, that the official distance we all know and love of 26 miles and 385 yards was introduced. Funnily enough; the reason this distance was introduced was so the race would conclude directly outside the Royal box in the Olympic stadium.
Before the race in London, Dorando Pietri, the small stature of an Italian, had clocked a 2 hour and 38 minutes in a 25 mile ‘marathon’ which in this day and age, is not an impressive time when it comes to contemplating Olympic medals, but at the time it was world class.
The race commenced at 2:33pm on the 24th of July, 1908, with 56 competitors on a warm sunny day – by British standards. Pietri had a fairly modest start to the race, sitting back in the pack, and by the time it reached the 20 mile mark he was falling short of the leader, Charles Hefferon (South Africa) by 4 minutes! Which today would mean almost certain victory for Hefferon, but Pietri had other ideas. He stormed past the South American at the 23 mile mark, making a brave run for home, a man so comfortable running 25 and 26 mile races, it was a sure victory for the Italian. However, Pietri did not treat the final 385 yards with as much anticipation as he should. After all, what is an extra 385 yards after 26 miles? Nothing, right?
Well, you would think so. When Pietri entered the Olympic stadium, he took a tremendous turn for the worst, and collapsed. His chase after the South African proved to be too much for the little Italian, as he had no energy to continue. As with most athletes, Pietri got up, and tried to continue. Taking him over 5 minutes to complete the final 385 yards of a 26 mile race, after collapsing to the ground an extra 4 times, and being carried by officials to the finish line.. Amazingly, he still won the race, but because of his dependence on the marshals to finish the race, he was disqualified. This left the American Johnny Hayes to claim the Olympic marathon title in 1908.
Pietri was not gone without recognition however. The royalties present at the conclusion of this fantastic race were not only impressed by his heart and commitment, but believed that he should of still claimed the gold. They presented him with an enormous silver trophy, in recognition of his talent, and innate passion. A few short years passed, and the distance used in the 1908 Olympic games was stated as the official distance for the marathon. 26.2 miles.. the extra 385 yards can break even the strongest of athletes.
Once a runner, always a runner.