Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first woman to win the Olympic marathon gold, doesn’t mince words when she talks about the Boston Athletic Association.
“It’s a grass roots club with world-class respect,” Samuelson admits. “It’s an icon.”
The Boston organization got its start on March 15, 1887 as a response to the prestigious New York Athletic Club. The BAA’s original mission was to “encourage all the manly sports and promote physical culture.” With a clubhouse building erected between Exeter and Boylston Streets in Back Bay, the club originally attracted fencers, polo players, and bowlers.
Now, the club is primarily associated with one thing: The Boston Marathon, which got its start in 1897 with just 15 runners.
“Of course, the marquee event has been the Boston Marathon, being the oldest and most prestigious, not just locally, regionally, nationally, but internationally,” said current race director Dave McGillivray. “To have an event of that magnitude right there in our own back yard; not every city in America can claim something like that.”