The Olympic men's marathon is precisely 26 miles and 385 yards long. It takes about two hours for the best distance runners in the world to complete it. While on their route through London in the 2012 Olympics, marathoners will pass many points of British history. They include Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and sights along the River Thames.
Why It's Called The Marathon
The legend is that in 490 B.C., a Greek soldier named Pheidippides ran that distance from the battle site in Marathon to Athens to deliver the news of a Greek victory over Persian invaders. According to the story, he then died from the effort. For other marathoners since the return of the Olympic games in 1896, the effort has been more rewarding. Here's a look at the five greatest men's Olympic marathon runners:
Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia, 1952
Zapotek won a total of four Olympic gold medals in running events in the 1948 games in London and 1952 games in Helsinki. According to records, his gold medal marathon race in Helsinki was a last minute decision to enter, and he never won another marathon. On the same day, his wife, Dana, won the Olympic gold medal in the javelin event.
Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia, 1960, 1964
The barefoot runner, Abebe Bikila, won in Rome and Tokyo Olympics. Not accustomed to wearing shoes, the Ethiopian shepherd decided he could run better without them through the streets of Rome. He finished the race 25 seconds ahead of the closest competitor. Just 10 weeks before the Tokyo Olympics, Bikila had surgery for acute appendicitis. He won the marathon in then-world-record time, more than four minutes ahead of the next competitor.
Waldemar Cierpinski of Germany, 1976, 1980
Not well-known when he entered the marathon in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, the East German beat the heavy favorite, American Frank Shorter, to the gold medal. Those were the years when the former East Germany had been cited for using enhancement drugs on both its men and women Olympic athletes. Although Cierpinski's wins still stand, the shadow of doubt remains associated with his name. Shorter didn't have the opportunity to run against him in 1980, because the U.S. boycotted the Moscow games.
Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya, 2008
The 22-year-old winner of the Beijing Olympics marathon achieved a record-breaking time, but didn't live long enough to compete in the 2012 London games. Three years after his Beijing triumph, he died after falling or jumping off a balcony of his home during a domestic incident with his wife.
Paavo Nurmi Never Won An Olympics Marathon One of history's greatest runners, Paavo Nurmi, never won an Olympic marathon. In the 1920, 1924 and 1928 Olympics, he won a total of nine gold medals in other running events. However, when he attempted to compete in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, he was considered a professional, and barred from the event. In later games, including the 2012 Olympics in London, professional basketball, tennis and other athletes are welcome to compete.
Olympic and sports fan Freddy Sherman grew up in Philadelphia and went to school with two Olympic medal winners, Kim Gallagher and David Wharton. Watching their skill and determination inspired him. You can follow Freddy on Twitter: @thefredsherman.
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