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Marathon is a long-distance running event with an official distance of 42.195 kilometres (26 miles and 385 yards), that is usually run as a road race. The event was instituted in commemoration of the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon (the namesake of the race) to Athens.
Marathon comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger. The legend states that he was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon (in which he had just fought), which took place in August or September, 490 BC. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly, exclaiming “Νενικήκαμεν” (Nenikékamen, ‘We have won.’) before collapsing and dying. The account of the run from Marathon to Athens first appears in Plutarch’s On the Glory of Athens in the 1st century AD which quotes from Heraclides Ponticus’s lost work, giving the runner’s name as either Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles. Lucian of Samosata (2nd century AD) also gives the story but names the runner Philippides (not Pheidippides).
There is debate about the historical accuracy of this legend.89 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 (150 mi)] each way. 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.
In 1879, Robert Browning wrote the poem Pheidippides. Browning’s poem, his composite story, became part of late-19th century popular culture and was accepted as a historic legend.
Mount Penteli stands between Marathon and Athens, which means that, if Pheidippides actually made his famous run after the battle, he had to run around the mountain, either from the north or from the south. The latter and more obvious route matches almost exactly the modern Marathon-Athens highway, which follows the lay of the land southwards from Marathon Bay and along the coast, then a gentle but protracted uphill westwards towards the eastern approach to Athens, between the foothills of Mounts Hymettus and Penteli, and then mildly downhill to Athens proper. This route is approximately 42 kilometres (26 mi) and set the standard for the distance as run in the modern age. However there have been suggestions that Pheidippides might have followed another route: a westward climb along the eastern and northern slopes of Mount Penteli to the pass of Dionysos, and then a straight southward downhill path to Athens. This route is considerably shorter, some 35 kilometres (22 mi), but features a very steep initial climb of more than 5 kilometres (3.1 mi).
Modern Olympics marathon
1896 Olympic marathonWhen 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 on March 10, 1896 that 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, on April 10, 1896 (a male-only race), was Spiridon “Spiros” Louis, a Greek water-carrier. He won at the Olympics in 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds.
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.
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.
The Olympic men’s record is 2:06:32, set at the 2008 Summer Olympics by Samuel Kamau Wanjiru of Kenya. The Olympic women’s record is 2:23:14, set at the 2000 Summer Olympics by Naoko Takahashi of Japan.
Inclusion of women
Long after the re-establishment of the marathon in the Olympics, distance races such as the marathon did not include female participants. Although a few women had run the marathon distance, they were not included in any official results. ’Marie-Louise Ledru has been credited as the first woman to race a marathon.] Violet Piercy has been credited as the first woman to be officially timed in a marathon. For challenging the long-held tradition of all-male marathon running in the Boston Marathon, in 1967, Kathrine Switzer is regarded as the first woman to run a marathon as a numbered entry, but did so unofficially, due to a fluke in the entry process. Bobbi Gibb had completed the Boston race unofficially the previous year, and was later recognized by the race organizers as the women’s winner for that year, as well as 1967 and 1968.
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