Olympic History

Sign The Golden Guest Book

View The Golden Guest Book

1968 Mexico city
Medal Count

Medal Count









Sep 30, 2000



1896 - ATHENS

SPIRIDON LOUIS 2hr 58min 50s

The first Olympic marathon took place on April 10, 1896. There were 17 entrants and the race was run from Marathon to Athens. Most of the competitors were Greeks. The race was won by Spiridon Louis, from the village of Amarousion. As he entered the stadium he was greeted by two Greek princes, who accompanied him around the track to the finishing line. Australian Edwin Flack, the winner of two gold medals in Athens, led the race for a short period but dropped out due to exhaustion.

1900 - PARIS


The winner of the Paris marathon was successful because he knew the course. The race was held in a stifling 39C, and only seven runners finished. The winner was a local Frenchman, Michel Theato, who worked as a baker's delivery man. The Americans claimed he used his knowledge of Parisian streets to find shortcuts.

1904 - ST LOUIS


The 1904 marathon in St Louis saw some of the most colourful competitors in Olympic history. There were the Zulu tribesmen who were in St Louis as part of a Boer War exhibit; there was the Cuban mailman who hitchhiked to the Games after losing his money in a craps game; and there was the eventual winner, Thomas Hicks, who was "zonked out" at the finish after taking a strychnine and brandy tonic.

1908 - LONDON

JOHN HAYES 2.55:18.4

The most dramatic finish in Olympic marathon history occurred at the London Games. Italy's Dorando Pietri led into the stadium but it soon became apparent he was in a state of exhaustion. He started to run the wrong way and eventually collapsed a number of times before being assisted across the line. The next man home was American Johnny Hayes, and while the Italian flag was being run up the victory pole, US officials protested, saying Pietri had been aided by spectators. The protest was upheld and Hayes was declared the winner. However, many more people learned of the little Italian and for his courage he was given a gold cup by the Queen.



The 1912 marathon was a huge success for South Africa. Its runners were first and second, with Kenneth McArthur picking up the gold medal. Sixty-eight competitors faced the starter's gun and, because of the heat, there was a high attrition rate. One of the competitors, Francisco Lazaro from Portugal, collapsed and later died in hospital, the first athlete to die as a result of competing in an Olympic Games. McArthur became a hero in both South Africa and Ireland. He was born in the emerald isle in 1880 but had emigrated to his new home in 1905.

1920 - ANTWERP


This race was won by the first of the "Flying Finns", Hannes Kolehmainen. Eight years previously, in Stockholm, he had to retire after 27km but this time he accelerated at this very same point and won by 65m.

For the first time in Olympic history the race was run in cool conditions and Kolehmainen's victory heralded the start of a dominance in distance running by Finnish athletes.

1924 - PARIS


This marathon was won by another Finn, Albin Stenroos. He had picked up a bronze medal in the 10,000m in Stockholm but between 1909 and 1924 had never run a marathon. Once again, many of the runners failed to finish, with only 28 of the 58 starters crossing the line.



Boughera El Ouafi became the first of two Algerian-born Frenchmen to win an Olympic marathon. He ran most of the distance close to the front but took the lead from Japan's Kanematsu Yamada only in the approach to the stadium. The race was held on a damp, cool day along the cobbled streets of the Dutch capital. There were 68 competitors from 23 countries and the course was one of the flattest in Olympic history. Second place went to Chile's Miguel Plaza Reyes. When he entered the stadium he was draped with a Chilean flag by a delighted spectator. Thus began a tradition which continues today.



An unusual scene occurred in this marathon when the first four runners to cross the line were all on the last lap at the same time. The winner was Argentine Juan Carlos Zabala. Although fading fast, he struggled across the line to set an Olympic record and then collapsed.

1936 - BERLIN

KEE-CHUNG SOHN 2.29:19.2

The winner of the 1936 marathon is listed in the record books as Sohn Kee-chung of Japan. However, he was actually a Korean. At the time, his country was occupied by the Japanese. Sohn ran a brilliant race and while he had to receive his gold medal under a "foreign" flag, he let the people of Berlin know he was a Korean.

In 1988, when he was 76, Sohn carried the Olympic torch into the main stadium at the opening ceremony of the Seoul Games. He was a very proud man!

1948 - LONDON


In the first Games after World War II, Argentine Delfo Cabrera won, but the 29-year-old fireman was not the first man into the stadium. That honour went to Etienne Gailly of Belgium. But Gailly was almost dead on his feet and was passed by Cabrera before he had covered a further 100m.


EMIL ZATOPEK 2.23:03.2

In Helsinki, the winner was the great Emil Zatopek. The Czech legend had already won the 5,000m and 10,000m and many thought him incapable of finishing the marathon, but not only did he finish it, he won easily. In fact, Zatopek was signing autographs as the second placegetter crossed the line. Many claim Zatopek's feats in Helsinki as being among the greatest in Olympic history. Certainly they left him exhausted, unable to walk for almost a week. Australia's sole representative was Claude Smeal, who had travelled directly from the battlefields of Korea.



Something unique happened at the beginning of the Melbourne marathon - a false start. But it didn't detract from the quality of the race. It was won by the effervescent Alain Mimoun, an Algerian-born Frenchman. For years he had been running in the shadow of Zatopek and when he won, defeating his old adversary, he was delighted. In fact, the thing that gave him the most pleasure following his victory was the salute and embrace from the Czech champion, who finished sixth.

1960 - ROME

ABEBE BIKILA 2.15:16.2

Rome saw a legendary African leave his mark on Olympic history. Abebe Bikila won and captured the imagination of the sporting world by running in bare feet. For motivation, Bikila used the sight of an obelisk which stood alongside the final stage of the course and which had been stolen from Ethiopia by Italian troops.

1964 - TOKYO

ABEBE BIKILA 2.12:11.2

Bikila was back after having an appendectomy, but this time he was running in shoes. From the 25km mark the race belonged to the Ethiopian. When he entered the stadium to become the first dual Olympic marathon champion, he was greeted by 75,000 cheering spectators, but organisers could not find an Ethiopian anthem for the medal ceremony so played the Japanese one instead.


MAMO WOLDE 2.20:26.4

The winner was another Ethiopian, Mamo Wolde. He had started his Olympic career back in Melbourne but it wasn't until Mexico that his star shone. One of the great Olympic stories occurred in this event. The last place-getter was a bloodied and bandaged Tanzanian named John Akhwari. When asked why he had continued on in such pain, he said: "My country did not send me 7,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 7,000 miles to finish."

1972 - MUNICH


The winner, Frank Shorter, was an American who had been born in Munich. He took the lead at the 15km mark and went away from the field as the race progressed. Third was Mamo Wolde. Shorter entered the stadium to boos. Only after the race did he find out that the spectators were showing their disapproval of a hoaxer who had run a lap of the stadium just before him.



The defending champion, Shorter, was up with leaders for most of the first half of the race and, with 6km to go, it became a battle between Waldemar Cierpinski, from East Germany, and the American. By the time the pair approached the stadium, the German was clearly the fresher of the two. He ran the last lap as his national anthem was being played for the women's 4 x 400m relay medal ceremony and this inspired him. He was so excited that he ran an extra lap. Lasse Viren was fifth after winning the 5,000m and 10,000m track double.

1980 - MOSCOW


Ciepinski became the second man to win back-to-back Olympic marathons. The East German took the lead with only 600m to go and went on to blitz the chasers on the stadium lap. An unusual feature of this race was the appearance of Lasse Viren. He had won the double-double (5,000m and 10,000m) in Munich and Montreal. He took the lead about the halfway mark but had to retire shortly after when he had an attack of diarrhoea.




This was the year the Olympic movement caught up with gender equality in terms of the marathon. The first women's marathon was won by Joan Benoit, from the USA, but one of the strongest memories from that race was the sight of Gabrielle Anderson-Scheiss, from Switzerland, staggering around the last lap of the stadium. The men's race had 100 starters from 60 nations, the firm favourite being Australia's Rob de Castella. The world champion ran a creditable race but unfortunately could not maintain the pace and finished fifth. The great Portuguese marathoner Carlos Lopes won the event.

1988 - SEOUL


ROSA MOTA 2.25:40

The men's race, run in very humid conditions, was won by Italy's Gelindo Bordin. It was the first Olympic appearance of Australia's Steve Moneghetti, who finished fifth. In the women's event, another Australian put in a magnificent performance. Lisa Martin had finished seventh in Los Angeles, and in Seoul she just missed out on a gold medal, finishing second by 13 seconds. It was unfortunate she came up against Rosa Mota from Portugal, regarded as one of the best female distance runners of all time.




The men's event was staged at 6.30pm to try to avoid the heat. The race was won by South Korean Hwang Young-Cho from Japan's Koichi Morishita. The next-to-last finisher was Hussain Haleen of the Maldives, who had the distinction of being the first athlete from the island nation to beat anyone - in any sport - in Olympic history. Russia's Valentina Yegorova won the women's race by a mere 40m and her victory was celebrated in her small village of Iziderkino as they watched on black and white television.

1996 - ATLANTA


The men's race in Atlanta was a very emotional event, as Olympic gold was won for the first time by a black South African. Josiah Thugwane, a security guard at a coalmine, dedicated his win to his President, Nelson Mandela. Second place went to a South Korean and third to a Kenyan. Australia's Steve Moneghetti finished seventh. The women's race had been held a week earlier. It was won by Fatuma Roba, an Ethiopian prison officer who had been inspired by stories about Abebe Bikila's wins in the 1960s. Roba had never even seen an Olympic Games on television before her appearance in Atlanta.


Copyright (c) 1999-2002 Yebbo Communication Network For problems or questions regarding this web contact webmaster@yebbo.com Last updated: April  12, 2002 .