Marathon (sport)

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The marathon is a long-distance athletics running event with an official distance of 42.195 kilometers (26 miles 385 yards) that is usually run as a road race. The event is named after the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon to Athens. The historical accuracy of this legend is in doubt,[1] contradicted by accounts given by Herodotus, in particular.

The marathon was one of the original modern Olympic events in 1896, though the distance did not become standardized until 1921. More than 800 marathons are contested throughout the world each year, with the vast majority of competitors being recreational athletes. The larger marathons can have tens of thousands of participants.


The name marathon comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger. The legend states that he was sent from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon.[2] It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the Senate, exclaiming "Νενικήκαμεν" (Nenikékamen, 'We have won') before collapsing and dying.[3] The account of the run from Marathon to Athens first appears in Plutarch's On the Glory of Athens in the 1st century AD who quotes from Heraclides Ponticus's lost work, giving the runner's name as either Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles.[4] Lucian of Samosata (2nd century AD) also gives the story but names the runner Philippides (not Pheidippides).[5]

There is debate about the historical accuracy of this legend.[1][6] The Greek historian Herodotus, the main source for the Greco-Persian Wars, mentions Pheidippides as the messenger who ran from Athens to Sparta asking for help, and then ran back, a distance of over 240 kilometres[7] each way.[8] In some Herodotus manuscripts the name of the runner between Athens and Sparta is given as Philippides. Herodotus makes no mention of a messenger sent from Marathon to Athens, and relates that the main part of the Athenian army, having already fought and won the grueling battle, and fearing a naval raid by the Persian fleet against an undefended Athens, marched quickly back from the battle to Athens, arriving the same day.

Modern Olympics marathon

When the idea of a modern Olympics became a reality at the end of the 19th century, the initiators and organizers were looking for a great popularizing event, recalling the ancient glory of Greece. The idea of organizing a marathon race came from Michel Bréal, who wanted the event to feature in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens. This idea was heavily supported by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, as well as the Greeks. The Greeks staged a selection race for the Olympic marathon, and this first marathon was won by Charilaos Vasilakos in 3 hours and 18 minutes (with the future winner of the introductory Olympic Games marathon coming in fifth). The winner of the first Olympic Marathon in 1896 (a male-only race) was Spiridon "Spiros" Loues, a Greek water-carrier. He won at the Olympics in 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds, despite stopping on the way for a glass of wine from his uncle waiting near the village of Chalandri.

The women's marathon was introduced at the 1984 Summer Olympics (Los Angeles, USA) and was won by Joan Benoit of the United States with a time of 2 hours 24 minutes and 52 seconds.[9]

Since the modern games were founded, it has become a tradition for the men's Olympic marathon to be the last event of the athletics calendar with a finish inside the Olympic stadium, often within hours of, or even incorporated into, the closing ceremonies. The marathon of the 2004 Summer Olympics revived the traditional route from Marathon to Athens ending at Panathinaiko Stadium, the venue for the 1896 Summer Olympics.


Year Distance
1896 and 1904 40 24.85
1900 40.26 25.02
1906 41.86 26.01
1908 and 1924 onward 42.195 26.22
1912 40.2 24.98
1920 42.75 26.56

The length of a marathon was not fixed at first, since the only important factor was that all athletes competed on the same course. The marathon races in the first few Olympic Games were not of a set length, but were approximately 40 km,[10] roughly the distance from Marathon to Athens by the longer, flatter route. The exact length of the Olympic marathon varied depending on the route established for each venue.

The standard distance for the marathon race was determined by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) in 1921 (Rule 240 of their Competition Rules),[1] at a distance of 26 miles 385 yards, or 42.195 km. This seemingly arbitrary distance was that adopted for the marathon at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London.

World records and world's best

World records were not officially recognized by the IAAF until January 1, 2004; previously, the best times for the marathon were referred to as the 'world best'. Courses must conform to IAAF standards for a record to be recognized. However, marathon routes still vary greatly in elevation, course, and surface, making exact comparisons impossible. Typically, the fastest times are set over relatively flat courses near sea level, during good weather conditions and with the assistance of pacesetters.

The world record time for men over the distance is 2 hours 4 minutes and 26 seconds, set in the Berlin Marathon by Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia on September 30, 2007, an improvement of 21 minutes and 13 seconds since 1947. The men's world record represents an average pace of under 2:57 per kilometer (4:45 per mile).[11] The world record for women was set by Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain in the London Marathon on April 13, 2003, in 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds. This time was set using male pacesetters; the fastest time by a woman without using a male pacesetter ("woman-only") was also set by Paula Radcliffe, again during the London Marathon, with a time of 2 hours 17 minutes and 42 seconds, on April 17, 2005.[12]

The marathon in Greece

Greece won gold in the first Olympiad of 1896 thanks to Spiros Loues. The silver medalist - Charilaos Vasilakos - was also Greek as were most of the top-10 finishers.

Greek hammer throw

The current Greek records are held by Spyros Andriopoulos (2h12m04s) for the men's event (October 9, 1988) and Maria Polizou (2h33m40s) for the women's (August 23, 1998).

Male Athletes

Female Athlete


External links

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