News26 Apr 2022

Boston Marathon's unique running history honoured with Heritage Plaque


Boston Marathon Heritage Plaque (© Boston Athletic Association)

The Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.), which organises the B.A.A. Boston Marathon (1897), the world’s oldest annual marathon, this afternoon (26) officially unveiled the World Athletics Heritage Plaque awarded to the race in 2019.

The World Athletics Heritage Plaque is a location-based recognition, awarded for 'an outstanding contribution to the worldwide history and development of the sport of track and field athletics and of out-of-stadia athletics disciplines such as cross country, mountain, road, trail and ultra-running, and race walking'.

The official presentation of the plaque by World Athletics Heritage, which had been on hold due to the pandemic, took place in the race museum at B.A.A.’s HQ on Dartmouth Street, Boston, Massachusetts, where the plaque will be permanently displayed, and is adjacent to the finish line of the race.

The plaque was unveiled by Thomas S. Grilk, B.A.A. President & Chief Executive Officer, and World Athletics Heritage Director Chris Turner, in the company of Jack Fleming, B.A.A. Chief Operating Officer, and fellow colleagues from the B.A.A. organisation.

Chris Turner and Thomas S. Grilk unveil the Boston Marathon Heritage Plaque

Chris Turner and Thomas S. Grilk unveil the Boston Marathon Heritage Plaque (© Lars Dietrich)

The tough one

Boston’s notoriously demanding course, with its final incline ‘Heartbreak Hill’ 20 miles into the race that has gone down in marathon folklore, has floored many a world beater.

Amby Burfoot, the 1968 Boston Marathon champion, confirmed on that the challenge is also “the downhill from the top of Heartbreak Hill to Cleveland Circle. This is called ‘Cemetery Mile’ for two good reasons: Evergreen Cemetery to the runners’ right, and the way the steep downhill deadens the legs, specifically the quadriceps muscles.”

Notably, despite the stature of the race, only five Olympic champions have ever managed to win in Boston.

Four women, firstly two-time Boston victor Joan Benoit (1979, 1983), who won the 1984 Olympic title in Los Angeles, and two three-time winners in Ethiopia's Fatuma Roba (1997, 1998, 1999), the Atlanta 1996 champion; Portugal's Rosa Mota (1987, 1988, 1990), who took the Olympic title in Seoul in 1988; and Kenya's 2022 Boston winner Peres Jepchirchir, who was the Olympic victor in Tokyo.

The sole male runner so far to accomplish the rare double is Italian Gelindo Bordin (1990), the Seoul 1988 Olympic champion, who took first place in Boston two years later.

The ‘American Marathon’

The racing singlets, running shoes, medals and trophies and hundreds of pieces of historic memorabilia in the B.A.A.'s museum pay tribute to the city’s famous marathon, which was inspired by and founded a year after the running of the inaugural Olympic marathon at the 1896 Games in Athens.

The B.A.A. itself had been established 10 years before. It was one of the association’s members, John Graham, who, as USA team manager at those 1896 Games witnessed the marathon race, proposed creating a similar long distance race in Boston.

The race, originally called the American Marathon, has an annual Monday date which makes it unique among elite international marathons. The Boston Marathon has always been held on the holiday commemorating “Patriots’ Day”, which since 1969 has become officially recognised as the third Monday in April.

The B.A.A., which has a mission to promote a healthy lifestyle, especially through running, has its HQ and museum virtually located at the finish line of the marathon.

Running treasure trove

The plaque, which is mounted on a wall in its own showcase in the museum, has joined a verifiable treasure trove of distance running artefacts associated with the race’s storied history.

The B.A.A.’s collection of memorabilia and its archive is always growing. In fact, they recently received a gift of a rare finisher medallion from the 1903 Boston Marathon. The competition bib number of last week’s Boston winner Jepchirchir is the very latest acquisition.

The perpetual Champions’ Trophy, which the winners receive immediately following the Boston Marathon, and the second place award (mounted plaque) from the first B.A.A. Boston Marathon in 1897 are standout exhibits.

The B.A.A. Boston Marathon trophy

The B.A.A. Boston Marathon trophy (© B.A.A.)

Poignantly, the 2013 champion's medallion won by men’s victor Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia was gifted back to the City of Boston in the summer of 2013, shortly after the notorious bombings which occurred on marathon day that year.

The collection, which contains hundreds of artefacts and thousands of images, has recently been renamed as the Gloria G. Ratti Collection in posthumous recognition of their long-time archivist and historian. Ratti was a B.A.A. Vice President on the Board of Governors.

Chris Turner for World Athletics Heritage

Jack Fleming, Chris Turner and Tim Grilk in the B.A.A. race museum

Jack Fleming, Chris Turner and Tim Grilk in the B.A.A. race museum (© B.A.A.)