Monday was the 40th anniversary of the first London marathon – one of the biggest sporting events in the world. Here TOBY PORTER traces its history.
Chris Brasher, who had paced Roger Bannister’s breaking the four-minute mile two years earlier, claimed to be the only ever Olympic gold medalist to have been “absolutely slaughtered” when he received his medal.
He had won the 3,000m steeple chase in the 1956 Sydney games, only to be disqualified for impeding another competitor.
He was reinstated the following day, and climbed the podium after a prolonged period of celebrating.
Shortly after running the New York City Marathon in 1979 Brasher, by then working for the Observer, wrote an article calling for London to emulate the Big Apple.
Brasher and fellow athlete John Disley made trips to America the following year to study the organisation and finance of big city marathons.
Brasher signed a contract with Gillette for £50,000 and then on March 29, 1981, the first London Marathon was held.
More than 20,000 applied to run, 6,747 were accepted and 6,255 crossed the finish line, many in front of live BBC TV cameras.
Elite Women start the competition, then Wheelchair (Men and Women), and Elite Men followed by the Mass Race.
The first Men’s Elite Race in 1981 was tied between American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen, who crossed the finish line holding hands in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 48 seconds.
The current men’s course record is 2:02:37 set by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge in 2019.
British runner Paula Radcliffe set the women’s world record in 2:15:25.
It was later briefly downgraded to “world best” by the IAAF as it was achieved in a mixed race – but the title was restored to the title of “world record” shortly afterwards.
In 2002, Lloyd Scott completed the marathon wearing a deep sea diving suit that weighed a total of 110 lb (50 kg), with each shoe weighing 24 lb (11 kg); he also set a record for the slowest London Marathon time.
In 2006, Sir Steve Redgrave – winner of five consecutive Olympic gold rowing medals – set a new Guinness World Record for money raised through a marathon by collecting £1.8 million in sponsorship.
The £500 that Claire Squires collected before the race increased to over £1 million after she died having collapsed during the 2012 race.
The course begins at three separate points: the ‘red start’ in southern Greenwich Park on Charlton Way, the ‘green start’ in St John’s Park, and the ‘blue start’ on Shooter’s Hill Road. The three courses converge after 4.5 km (2.8 miles) in Woolwich, close to the Royal Artillery Barracks.
Runners see sights including the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, Tower of London and Buckingham Palace on their 26.2 mile run. It finishes on The Mall.
In 2010, 36,549 people crossed the line, the biggest field since the race began.
The first wheelchair marathon race was held in 1983 and the event was credited with reducing the stigma surrounding disabled athletes.
Brasher died at his home in Chaddleworth, Berkshire, in 2003, after struggling for several months against pancreatic cancer.
The race is currently organised by Hugh Brasher, his son, as Race Director and Nick Bitel as Chief Executive. Previously David Bedford and Bitel had overseen a period of great change for the race, including amendments to the course in 2005.
Dan Tunstall Pedoe was the medical director of the London Marathon for 25 years between the first one in 1981 until 2005.
In 2003, Pedoe was shadowed by Sanjay Sharma from St George’s Hospital (University of London) who took over the role in its entirety in 2006.
Medical cover is provided by 150 doctors. Also assisting were more than 1,500 volunteers of St. John Ambulance, who organise over 50 first aid posts along the route, and three field hospitals at the finish.
How to mark 40 years of race
The London Marathon Charitable Trust this month launched its #LMCT40 campaign – a year of celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the charity.
The Trust was created by London Marathon co-founders John Disley and Chris Brasher on 13 March 1981 to distribute the surplus generated by the event to fund sport and recreation projects in London.
The very first London Marathon was held on Sunday 29 March 1981 and later that year the first seven grants from The Trust were awarded, including £1,500 to the Ferndale Sports Centre in Brixton.
Forty years on, The Trust has expanded its remit to fund projects across the UK.
London Marathon Events (LME) now stages world-class mass events in running, cycling and swimming every year.
A total of more than £93 million has now been awarded to more than 1,470 projects across the UK, boosting exercise and challenging inequality of access to physical activity.
Since 1981, The Trust has:
Funded more than 55 different types of sports and activities.
Awarded funding in all 32 London boroughs l Awarded more than £11.4 million to 19 partners since 2018 to inspire activity across the UK.
Awarded more than £7million to projects that have helped preserve the Olympic Legacy, such as the London Marathon Community Track and Lee Valley VeloPark, both in the Olympic Park.
Awarded £3.8 million to more than 200 play projects – the Trust is one of the few organisations of its kind to fund these.
Funded 51 playing fields in perpetuity across the UK.
Catherine Anderson, the incoming Executive Director of The Trust, said: “This is a historic year. Coronavirus has shown us all how vital it is to live healthy, active lives, but it has also highlighted the unacceptable inequalities that exist when it comes to access to sport and activity.
“Our vision is a society in which everyone is physically active, which is so vital for health and wellbeing, and we will be focusing on this throughout the coming year.”
As part of the #LMCT40 campaign launch, The Trust announced that it will be offering organisations that have received its funding over the past 40 years the chance to apply for one of 40 special Anniversary Places in this year’s Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday 3 October.
It is set to be the biggest marathon ever staged, with 50,000 participants in the traditional mass participation event and another 50,000 in a virtual event.
As part of the application process for The Trust’s Anniversary Places, organisations must demonstrate how a place in the world’s greatest marathon will be used to inspire activity.
Sir Rodney Walker, Chairman of The Trust, said: “The London Marathon is an extraordinary force for good.
“The London Marathon Charitable Trust and London Marathon Events work towards our shared vision of inspiring activity.
“Our grantee organisations are fundamental in achieving this mission, through their work in using the power of sport and physical activity to create healthier communities. We believe this wonderful opportunity will inspire more extraordinary work from our grantees.”
To celebrate its 40th anniversary, The Trust is inviting all past recipients of grants since 1981 to tell the story of how The Trust’s contribution has helped the organisation and community.
You can do this via our Tell Us Your Story form on the London Marathon Charitable Trust’s 40th anniversary web page.
For more information, visit the London Marathon Charitable Trust website and follow The Trust on Twitter @LMCT.
Main Pic: Running along Charlton Road in 2014
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