News29 Mar 2024

London Marathon's history celebrated with the award of World Athletics Heritage Plaque


The London Marathon (© TCS London Marathon)

The history of the annual London Marathon has been recognised with the World Athletics Heritage Plaque (category - Competition).

The award was announced today, 29 March, on the anniversary of the inaugural race on 29 March 1981.

The London Marathon was co-founded by Chris Brasher, who helped pace Sir Roger Bannister to the first sub-four-minute mile and won gold in the 3000m steeplechase at the 1956 Olympic Games, and John Disley, who won bronze in the 1952 Olympic steeplechase and later played a key role in the development of course measurement. They were inspired to create the London Marathon following a visit to the New York Marathon in 1979. More than four decades on, their founding aims, which included “to have fun and provide some happiness and sense of achievement in a troubled world’, still epitomise the event. 

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'.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe commented: “The London Marathon swiftly captured the imagination of the British public, just as the New York City Marathon inspired runners across the USA a decade before. The image in 1981 of American Dick Beardsley and Norway’s Inge Simonsen crossing the line hand-in-hand to win the inaugural men’s race and Grete Waitz setting the world record in the women’s division two years later, quickly established London as a race of choice for the international elite.

“The London Marathon is rightly as famous worldwide as a charity fundraiser as it is for its super-fast finishing times and head-to-head battles at the front. Countless club and recreational runners raise millions for charity each year, which along with the event’s renowned organisational reputation annually attracts 45,000 runners to its start line.

“Congratulations to the London Marathon which thoroughly deserves this recognition of its rich heritage and its legacy of better public health and fitness.”

Chief Executive of London Marathon Events Nick Bitel commented: “We are truly honoured to receive this accolade from World Athletics and it is a wonderful tribute to the London Marathon and the work of so many people over the years.

“Over the decades, the greatest athletes in marathon running have raced on this famous course through London, setting world records and creating history. That first race back in 1981 had fewer than 7000 finishers. This year we expect 50,000 people to cross the iconic finish line on The Mall, raising millions for charity and cheered on every step of the way by 750,000 spectators.

“We look forward to welcoming the world to the 44th London Marathon on 21 April.”

Over a billion for charity

Since 1981, the world record has been broken at the London Marathon on six occasions, once in the men’s division, four times in a women-only race and once in the women’s mixed-race category, with Britain’s Paula Radcliffe responsible for two of those historic moments.

Yet it was Norway’s late great Grete Waitz’s world record performance in 1983 which undoubtedly established the fledgling London Marathon as one of the elite races of the world.

Grete Waitz in action at the 1983 London Marathon

Grete Waitz in action at the 1983 London Marathon (© Getty Images)

To date, two runners – Norwegian Ingrid Kristiansen between 1984 and 1988 and Kenyan Eluid Kipchoge between 2015 and 2019 – have each won four titles.

Marking its global stature, the London Marathon is a World Athletics Platinum Label road race and one of the six races which compose the Abbott World Marathon Majors, a series which was founded in 2006.

The London Marathon’s mass race credentials are equally as impressive with a record number of more than 48,000 runners taking part in 2023. Since 1981, more than 1.2 million people have completed the course and more than £1.2 billion has been raised for charity.

The London Marathon Foundation itself has awarded over £105 million to more than 1600 projects which inspire activity across the UK, fulfilling the dream of co-race founders Chris Brasher and John Disley to improve people’s health and wellbeing.

World Athletics Heritage