Italy and Greece are the cradles and the origin of many of the elements that make up Western culture. Among them are the Olympic Games, but also less ambitious events, such as the 42,195-meter race that is world-famous today. Marathon. But do you know the origin of the Marathon?
The origin of the marathon: between myth, legend, and reality
The history of the marathon begins many years ago in Athens. The myth says that the name Marathon comes from the legend of Filippides. According to this legend, Filippides was a Greek messenger. His mission was to go from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory of his army against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon (490 BC). Yes, Marathon was the name of a city and also of the battle fought in that place.
The distance between Marathon and Athens is about 40 kilometers and this messenger had to travel quickly. You will say that there was not much hurry if they had won, right? Actually, there was. The Athenians believe that they had lost the battle and that this allowed the Persians to invade them. So they were about to burn their own city. And not only that. Also, they were going to murder their children and their women.
Fortunately, legend tells that Filippides achieved the feat, and after running the 40 kilometers with his last forces, collapsed in front of Athens shouting the message: we have won.
Is the legend about the origin of the Marathon accurate?
Although the legend is very beautiful, there are some debates about the accuracy of these events. As with all legends and records, there are contradictions. Apparently, there are sources which claim that Filipides himself ran an even higher distance shortly before. Neither more nor less than 240 km between Athens and Sparta. Something that seems unlikely and that puts into question the legend of the origin of the Marathon as we know it.
The origin of the marathon and the Olympic Games
In the first modern Olympic Games held in Athens in 1896, the organizers were looking for a great event that would recall the glory of ancient Greece. It was here that the idea of the myth of Philippi and the Battle of Marathon arose.
The first Olympic marathon was held on April 10, 1896, and its winner was Spyridon Louis, a Greek runner who ran from the Marathon plain to the Olympic stadium in Athens in 2:58:50.
However, the distance varied over the years, depending on the circuit that was used. Until in 1908 at the Olympic Games in London, it was officially modified. So, for the race to start at Windsor Castle and finish at the Olympic Stadium, the organizers had to widen the distance to the strangers 42,195 meters today.
Women and the origin of the Marathon
Although today it is normal to see hundreds of women who start, enjoy and finish marathons, not too many years ago they could not do it.
In the 1970s, the Olympic marathon had come a long way from the dusty roads of Athens. However, women were still not allowed to compete and the struggle to establish a women’s Olympic marathon was itself a kind of long-distance race.
In fact, before the 1980s, there were no women’s distance races in the Olympic Games
Women were completely excluded from athletics competitions until 1928. At that time, the longest race in which they were allowed to participate was 800 m.
Unfortunately, on this first occasion there were some problems:
• Lina Radke, from Germany, set a world record in this distance
• But many other athletes had not prepared properly and some collapsed on the track.
• The Olympic organizers felt that athletics was too strenuous for women.
• As a consequence, women could not compete in races of more than 200 meters until the 1960s
• At the Moscow Games (1980), the longest women’s race was 1,500 meters.
The marathon is part of the athletics program in the Olympic Games since Athens 1896, in the men’s category, and from Los Angeles 1984, in the female category.
And what about women in popular marathons?
Before 1972, women had been excluded from the most famous marathon, the Boston Marathon. However, this rule did not prevent women from hiding and participating in a covert manner. In 1966, Roberta Gibb hid behind a bush at the start of the Boston Marathon, furtively entered the field and finished the race at an unofficial time of 3:21:25.
The following year, number 261 in the Boston marathon was assigned to participant K.V. Switzer. At the 3.2 km race, the organizers realized that Switzer was a woman, Kathrine Switzer.
Career director Will Cloney and officer Jock Semple tried to grab Switzer and pull her out of the race, or at least eliminate her number, but her teammates defended her with body blocks.
Kathrine Switzer finished the Boston Marathon in 04 hours and 20 minutes.
The photographs of the career officers chasing Switzer appeared in the national newspapers the next day and were the starting point to start debating whether or not women could participate in this great career.
On August 31, 1971, Adrienne Beames of Australia, became the first woman to run a marathon in less than three hours, breaking that barrier with a time of 2:46:30.
On October 28, 1973, the first women’s marathon was held in Waldniel, West Germany.
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