One of the world’s great marathons came from truly humble beginnings–not so long ago.
Written by: Matt Fitzgerald
The New York City Marathon turns 41 years old this year. That’s really not very old (at least this 40-year-old writer would like to think not), but this great event has packed a lot of great moments into its relatively brief history. Here’s our top-10, in chronological order:
1970: A humble beginning
The inaugural New York City Marathon, which was the brainchild of New York Road Runners founder Fred Lebow, was a very humble affair—almost laughably so when you contrast it against what the event would become. The course consisted in a few loops of Central Park. The entry fee was $1. Only 127 runners started, and of those, a mere 55 finished!
1976: The first five-borough race
Although Fred Lebow started small, he always thought big, and in 1976 he took a big step toward realizing the full scope of his vision for the New York City Marathon by convincing the city to allow runners to travel through all five boroughs. Although the field was still small at just over 2,000 runners, Lebow scored another coup by attracting Olympic gold and silver medalist Frank Shorter to run the race.
1978: Grete Waitz arrives
In 1978 a relatively unknown Norwegian track runner named Grete Waitz ran New York as her first marathon and not only won but set a new world record of 2:32:20. Amazingly, it was the first run longer than 12 miles she had ever done.
1981: Alberto Salazar breaks world record—or not
The New York City Marathon course is not considered to be particularly conducive to fast times, but on that course in 1981 Alberto Salazar recorded the fastest marathon time ever run anywhere: 2:08:13. Maddeningly, however, Salazar’s world record was snatched away from him when the course was later remeasured and found to be a few meters short. His only consolation was in winning the NYC Marathon for a third time the following year (Salazar was also the 1980 winner).
1983: Rod Dixon outduels Geoff Smith
The 1983 men’s elite race brought unparalleled drama. England’s Geoff Smith started at a torrid pace and built a lead of more than a half mile over 1972 Olympic 1,500m silver medalist Rod Dixon of New Zealand with only a few miles left in the race. But Smith faltered and Dixon slowly reeled him in, catching and passing the exhausted Brit a mere 400 meters from the finish line.
1988: Grete Waitz wins her ninth NYC Marathon
Who could have known that Grete Waitz’s surprise victory in the 1978 NYC Marathon would be the first chapter in a decade-long domination of the event. That period of podium ownership culminated in 1988, when Waitz won for the ninth and last time.
1992: Fred Lebow finishes his own race
When he contracted brain cancer in 1990, Fred Lebow vowed to defeat the disease so thoroughly that he would be able to run the New York City Marathon himself, and in 1992 he fulfilled that promise, to the delight of his legions of admirers. Sadly, the disease did return, and in 1994 it took his life. He was only 62 years old.
2005: The closest finish ever
A margin of victory of 0.03 seconds is fairly small in a 100m dash. But in a marathon it is nothing—and almost unheard of. But that was the margin by which Kenyan Paul Tergat defeated South African Hendrick Ramaala in the 2005 New York City Marathon. The two men’s accelerating side-by-side push toward the finish in the final mile of the race was almost enough to make spectators’ heads explode.
2007: NYC Marathon hosts the men’s Olympic Trials
Whoever thought of hosting the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Men’s Marathon the day before the 2007 New York City Marathon on a spectator-friendly multi-lap course in Central Park deserves a medal. Ryan Hall put out one of the greatest marathon performances ever in winning the race handily in 2:09:02, running the second half in a stunning time of 1:02:45 on a very challenging route. Sadly, though, the day will mostly be remembered for the death of another competitor, and Hall’s close friend, Ryan Shay.
2009: Meb Keflezighi becomes first American winner in 27 years
On November 1, 2009, Meb Keflezighi became the first American to win the New York City Marathon since Alberto Salazar in 1982. Can he do it again in 2010? Or will Dathan Ritzenhein become the first American-born winner of the New York City Marathon since Bill Rodgers in 1979 (as neither Meb nor Salazar was born in the U.S.)? Or will some other kind of magical happening join the list of greatest moments in the history of one of the world’s great marathons?
FILED UNDER: New York City Marathon / Race Coverage TAGS: Alberto Salazar / Fred Lebow / Geoff Smith / Grete Waitz / Hendrick Ramaala / ING New York City Marathon / Meb Keflezighi / Paul Tergat / Rod Dixon / Ryan Hall / Ryan Shay / Top 10 Moments