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The New York City Marathon between present and past

The first edition of the New York City Marathon, which is now the most famous and participated marathon in the world (51,394 athletes reached the finish line in 2016 against about one hundred thousand applications), was held on September 13, 1970, organised by the presidents of the New York Road Runners Club - Vincent Chiappetta and Fred Lebow. At the time, 127 competitors, at the price of a dollar (now $385), covered six laps along the Park Drive in Central Park.

Only 55 arrived at the end, where no more than a hundred spectators stopped to watch the victory of Gary Muhrcke in 2 hours 31 minutes and 38 seconds. Today it is estimated that two million people crowd along the route during the race, not to mention the hundreds of thousands who watch it live on television. The prizes, whose total amount today is around eight hundred thousand dollars, were at the time, watches of little value and recycled trophies of baseball and bowling competitions.

Since then, it is estimated that more than seven hundred thousand people have taken part in the most important of the six marathons that are part of the World Marathon Majors (in addition to New York City Marathon, those of Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London and Tokyo), a race now entered the collective imagination thanks to the photos of thousands of runners crowded on the bridge of Verrazzano in Staten Island and ready to leave, as every year, at 10.10 am on the first Sunday in November (the maximum limit to conclude it is 8 hours and 30 minutes).

The New York City Marathon yesterday and today

Since the first edition of New York City Marathon, things have changed a lot. Starting with the route (the length obviously remains the official one of 42,195 kilometres, or, to put it in the American way, 26,219 miles). In 1976, to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of the United States, it was decided to modify the track so as to cross all five districts of the city, in a circuit that has not changed and that, since that year, after starting from the bridge of Verrazzano Staten Island crosses Brooklyn for about 19 kilometres before entering about halfway through the race in Queens from the bridge Pulaski, across the East River on the dreaded Queensboro Bridge (one of the most difficult moments of the race), reaching Manhattan, briefly crossing the Bronx and finally returning to Manhattan. First to Harlem along Fifth Avenue and then to Central Park South where thousands of spectators gather to cheer on the athletes for the last mile.
At Columbus Circle the race then returns to the park and ends in front of the Tavern on the Green restaurant. A difficult path, but an experience to be tried absolutely, to quote Stefano Baldini (Olympic gold medal at the Athens Marathon 2004, that can also give curious and unexpected moments such as the one at the fourteenth kilometer where, for 35 years, the Bishop Loughlin High School Band has been playing continuously Gonna Fly Now from Rocky's soundtrack, accompanying the transition from the first to the last competitor.

The 1976 edition, with the new track, marks the consecration of the race. Winner, Bill Rodgers, repeats his victory in the next three editions. The race will then see Alberto Salazar, an athlete of Cuban origin and future coach of the great Mo Farah triumph for the following three years. The first victory of a foreign athlete, the New Zealander Rod Dixon, was in 1983, and then the following year by the Italian, Orlando Pizzolato. Italy shows its star quality with a historic hat-trick, triumphing again in the next two years, before the African hegemony of recent decades with Kenya to dominate the scene. Its 24 successes and two best times: the 2 hours 22 minutes and 31 seconds of Kenyan Margareth Okayo (2003) and the 2 hours 5 minutes and six seconds of his compatriot Geoffrey Mutai (2011).

A legendary race that has given moments of great emotion, such as when in 2005 the Kenyan Paul Tergat managed to win the race by beating the South African Hendrick Ramaala in the sprint for a single second, but also had to face several difficulties: the 2012 edition, for example, was cancelled one day before the departure by Mayor Michael Bloomberg because of the passage of Hurricane Sandy, and we can’t forget the three deaths that tragically marked the 2008 edition: those of Brazilian Carlos Jose Gomes, who collapsed to the ground as soon as the race ended, the sixty-six year old Joseph Marotta, hit by heart attack hours after concluding his fourth marathon in New York, and finally Fred Costa, who collapsed during the route and died 13 days later, on November 15.

A race as a symbol of equality

The New York City Marathon also remains one of the world symbols of gender equality, at least in sport: in 1970, the Amateur Athletic Union, the sports federation of the United States, did not allow women to participate in the marathons, but Fred Lebow and Vince Chiappetta ignored the ban immediately allowing female athletes to join. A wonderful decision because it was a woman, the Norwegian Grete Waitz (one of the greatest marathon runners of all time who will win nine times in New York), to win the world record in 1978, ending the race with a time of 2 hours 32 minutes and 30 seconds, thus giving the event that great popularity that has not diminished over all these years.

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