With less than two days to go until the London Marathon, we thought it was time to think about which marathoners have become Legends. We actually started by wanting to do a Top 10 list but – there were so many great contenders – it proved impossible. We’re grouped our favorite 25 into groups – The Pioneers; Catalysts of the Running Boom; The Women’s Movement; Great Marathoners of the Eighties; The All-Rounders; and The Future.
Have we forgotten any of your Marathon Legends?
1) Spyridon Louis (1873-1940)
Spyridon Louis rose to national fame after winning the Marathon at the 1896 Olympics in Athens. On his victory the King of Greece offered Louis a gift and Louis asked for a donkey drawn carriage to help him with his water carrying business.
2) Dorando Pietri (1885-1942)
Dorando Pietri - a diminutive 5’ 2” pastry chef - was helped by the umpires as he fell to the ground in the last kilometres of the 1st London Olympics Marathon. He was denied Gold but became a national hero.
3) Alain Mimoun (1921-2013)
Alain Mimoun was born in Algeria and served in the French army during WWII. Although he was overshadowed by Emil Zatopek for most of his running career, he won Gold at the 1956 Olympic Marathon on the same day that his 1st child was born.
4) Abebe Bikila (1932-1973)
The son of a shepherd, Bikila was a last minute addition to the Ethiopian Olympic team. Unable to get trainers he decided to run the 1960 Olympic Marathon barefoot. Bikila sprinted to the finish line winning the marathon in record time. Bikila repeated his win in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics setting a new Olympic record.
5) Bill Adcocks (1941- )
In 1968 Bill Adcocks came 5th in the Mexico Olympic Marathon. A year later, wearing flimsy plimsoles the Coventry gas fitter ran a record time for the punishing Athens Marathon course (2:11.07.2), a time that stood for 35 years.
CATALYSTS OF THE RUNNING BOOM
6) Frank Shorter (1947- )
Frank Shorter is the only American athlete to have won two medals in the Olympic Marathon. He won Gold at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. He also won Silver at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. It was these victories that prompted a running boom across America.
7) Bill Rodgers (1947- )
Bill Rodgers is best known for his four victories in the Boston Marathon and NYC Marathon. Like Frank Shorter, it was these spectacular performances that were largely responsible for the running boom across America in the 1970s.
8) Ron Hill (1938- )
Hill was the second man to break the 2:10 time for marathon and set world records for the 10miles, 15miles and 25miles distances. At the age of 76 Hill is also legendary for having run at least a mile every day for the past 50 years!
THE WOMEN”S MOVEMENT
9) Kathrine Switzer (1947- )
Kathrine Switzer empowered women around the world through running. She entered the 1967 Boston Marathon – 5 years before women were allowed to compete. Once race officials realized, they attempted to stop her. However, Switzer’s then boyfriend shoved the race official aside enabling Switzer to complete the course.
10) Joan Benoit (1957- )
Benoit began long distance running to help her recover from a broken leg. Entering the 1982 Boston Marathon as a relative unknown she won. Again in Boston, a year later in ‘83, she broke the WR. Her time of 2.22:43 would not be bettered for 11 years. She was the first woman to win Olympic Gold in the Marathon, despite knee surgery a few weeks before the trials.
11) Ingrid Kristiansen (1956- )
Kristiansen did not burst onto the running scene with immediate victories; it was not until after the birth of her first son that she began to make her mark. In 1984 Kristiansen won the Houston and London marathons as well as setting two track WRs for 5000m and 10,000m. In 1985 she won the London Marathon again setting a new WR of 2.21.06.
12) Grete Waitz (1953-2011)
In 1979 Waitz became the first woman to run a marathon in under 2:30. Between 1978 and 1988 she won 9 NYC Marathons. Alongside this outstanding achievement Waitz also won the London Marathon twice, took home a silver in the 1984 Olympic Marathon and won the World Cross Country Championships five times.
13) Rosa Mota (1958- )
Rosa Mota’s first marathon was at the European Championships of 1982. Despite the fact that she was not one of the favorites, she easily beat Ingrid Kristiansen to win. She was the first sportswoman from Portugal to win Olympic Gold and also the first women to be the reigning European, World and Olympic champion.
14) Liz McColgan (1964- )
In 1988 McColgan won Olympic Silver at Seoul. In 1991 she won the 10,000m at the World Championships in Tokyo. 3 months later she made her debut in Marathon running winning the NYC Marathon in 2.27.23 a time which broke the record for a debut marathon. McColgan finished second in the London Marathon in 1997 and again in 1998.
15) Paula Radcliffe (1973- )
Radcliffe won her debut London Marathon 14th April 2002, later that year setting the WR when she won the Chicago Marathon on 13th October with a time of 2:17:18. A year later Radcliffe broker her own record at the London Marathon on the 23rd of February finishing in a time of 2:15.25.
16) Catherine Ndereba (1972- )
She won Silver at two consecutive Olympics for the marathon – Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008 – competing with marathon WR holder, Paula Radcliffe. She also won Gold at two World Championships (2003, 2007) and Silver (2005) for the marathon. For her consistency and speed she has been nicknamed “Catherine the Great,”
GREAT MARATHONERS OF THE EIGHTIES
17) Steve Jones (1955- )
A year after failing to finish his first marathon Jones ran the 1984 Chicago Marathon, winning in a WR of 2:08:05. Jones went on to win four more Marathons including his personal best in Chicago in 1985 finishing in a time of 2:07:13 a second off the world record which was now held by Carlos Lopes.
18) Charlie Spedding (1952- )
In 1984 Spedding won his first marathon in Houston, later that year he won London and then took Bronze at the LA Olympics for the Marathon. Spedding was the first Britain to win an Olympic Marathon medal in 20 years, a British athlete has not won an Olympic medal in a marathon since. At the 1985 London Marathon Spedding set an English Marathon record that would remain unbroken until 2014. Spedding is the third fastest British marathon runner after Steve Jones and Mo Farah.
19) Eamonn Martin (1958- )
In 1993 Martin made his marathon debut in London, winning with a time of 2:10:50 and in doing so becoming (thus far) the last British man to win the London Marathon. His final sprint - out-running Mexico’s Isidro Rico - is one of the most gripping marathon finishes out there!
20) Alberto Salazar (1958- )
Between 1980-82 Salazar won the NYC Marathon three times as well as winning the Boston Marathon in 1982. His win in the Boston Marathon became known as the “duel in the sun” as after sprinting to the finish line beating Dick Beardsley Salazar collapsed and had to be rushed to hospital to have 6 litres of water intravenously because he had not drunk during the race.
21) Carlos Lopes (1947- )
Lopes was a stonecutter’s helper who had his sights set on playing football at his local club. His father disapproved and so he turned to athletics but it was not until 1976 at the age of 29 that Lopes had his breakthrough. In 1984 Lopes won the LA Marathon brining home Portugal’s first Olympic Gold and setting a new Olympic Marathon Record at the time. In 1985 at the Rotterdam Marathon Lopes took 53 seconds off the world best marathon time running it in 2:07.12.
THE ULTIMATE ALL-ROUNDERS
22) Emil Zatopek (1922-2000)
Known for his punishing training regime, Zatopek set WRs for the 5,000, 10,000 20,000, 25,000 and 30,000 meters. In the 1952 Helsinki Olympic games Zatopek brought home three gold medals, the most astonishing of which was his win for the marathon, which he had never competed in before!
23) Haile Gebrselassie (1973- )
With seventeen WRs over four different distances, two Olympic Golds, Dave Bedford has described Haile Gebrselassie as “the greatest distance runner the world has ever seen.” He has also done numerous humanitarian and charitable work in Ethiopia and is considered to be the country’s greatest national hero.
MARATHON LEGENDS OF THE FUTURE
24) Geoffrey Mutai (1981- )
The oldest of 11 siblings, Geoffrey Mutai started running at primary school in Nakuru, Kenya. In 2007 Mutai made his marathon debut, finishing second at the inaugural Kass Marathon in Eldoret. On 18 April 2011 Mutai won the Boston marathon in the fastest time ever for a marathon - 2:03:52 - 57 seconds faster than the WR.
25) Dennis Kimetto (1984- )
Dennis Kimetto is world record holder for the marathon. On 28th September 2014 he broke the WR at the Berlin marathon in a time of 2:02:57. He is the only person to have ever run sub 2:03. Kimetto grew up in a rural farming community, where he was a subsistence farmer, only running casually. A chance meeting with Geoffrey Mutai led him to be invited to join Mutai’s training camp in 2010.