Boston Marathon

US runners still hold a place at Boston Marathon

Bill Rodgers won his second straight Boston Marathon in 1979.
Bill Rodgers won his second straight Boston Marathon in 1979.

American runners haven’t had success winning the Boston Marathon in recent decades, but US record times have steadily risen over time:

Ellison (Tarzan) Brown

Record: 2:28:51

Date: April 19, 1939


Description: Brown surged ahead at the 17-mile mark, becoming the first American marathoner to run in less than 2 hours and 30 minutes. Perhaps more incredibly, reports have Brown, a Narragansett Indian from Rhode Island, allegedly arriving at the starting line minutes before the race and eating hot dogs.

Bernard Joseph Smith

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Record: 2:26:51

Date: April 19, 1942

Description: Overcoming illness, on race day, 6-foot-2-inch Smith moved into first place at the 21-mile mark and stayed there. Cool, 44-degree temperatures helped Smith, a milkman from Medford , finish in course and American record time.

Eamon O’Reilly

Record: 2:11:12


Date: April 20, 1970

Description: The Georgetown University alum didn’t walk away a Boston Marathon champion. While that honor belonged to Britain’s Ron Hill, who finished in a course-record 2:10:30 in rainy, 44-degree weather, the race’s fast pace pushed O’Reilly to a record-setting second place. O’Reilly was also the lone American in the top five.

Bill Rodgers

Record: 2:09:55

Date: April 21, 1975

Description: Despite stopping five times (four for water, once to tie his sneaker), for an untied shoelace), Rodgers broke the course and American record. ‘‘In ’75, I had a great day, a tailwind,’’ he said. ‘‘I was coming off a bronze medal at World Cross Country and that totally lifted me up psychologically. So, I felt very competitive from the get-go when I was up in the front pack. Around 8 or 9 or 10 miles, I broke away. The weather was good enough where it wasn’t a risk to make my move early and just run. I wasn’t running for time, but I knew I was running fast.’’

Bill Rodgers


Record: 2:09:27

Date: April 16, 1979

Description: In his third Boston Marathon victory, Rodgers surged ahead on Heartbreak Hill. ‘‘The main issue that I had there was a challenger in Toshihiko Seko from Japan,’’ said Rodgers. ‘‘He and I were very even, but he had never run Boston before and didn’t know the course. So, I was able to make a move going through the Boston hills and get away from him. My time was a surprise. I was just going for the win.’’

Joan Benoit Samuelson

Record: 2:35:15

Date: April 16, 1979

Still a student at Bowdoin, Samuelson bested the competition by more than three minutes, setting both a course and American record. ‘‘I’d never seen the course,’’ said Samuelson. ‘‘I had no idea what I was capable of running and I ran a 2:35. Then, I went back to Bowdoin and was greeted by a standing ovation in the cafeteria when I walked in Tuesday evening for dinner. I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t think anybody knew I’d gone down to Boston.’’

Patti (Lyons) Catalano

Record: 2:27:51

Date: April 20, 1981

While New Zealander Allison Roe took the women’s title in a course-record 2:26:46, pre-race favorite Patti (Lyons) Catalano earned the American record, finishing second. Catalano claimed the runner-up spot for the third straight year, but she could take some consolation in the American record and a more than a two-minute improvement of her personal best.

Alberto Salazar

Record: 2:08:52

Date: April 19, 1982

Salazar and Dick Beardsley battled each other over the final 9 nine miles to a sprint finish in the legendary ‘‘Duel in the Sun.’’ ‘‘It’s like another lifetime,’’ said Salazar. ‘‘I’m proud of it. But the marathon world has changed so much. It’s so much more competitive now. We’re still trying to get an American to win again, let alone take 1-2.’’

More: Duel in the Sun competitors still linked

Joan Benoit Samuelson

Record: 2:22:42 2:22:43

Date: April 18, 1983

She started the race on a 2:17 pace and broke the existing world record by almost three minutes. ‘‘I just went out and ran how I felt that day,’’ she said. ‘‘I knew I was in good shape. But never in my wildest dreams thought I’d run a 2:22.’’

Bob Kempainen

Record: 2:08:47

Date: April 18, 1994

With ideal conditions, the race featured four of the five fastest marathon times in history. Kempainen, who finished seventh, was more than 90 seconds behind winner Cosmas Ndeti. ‘‘The pace seemed slow relatively speaking, initially, then I felt like was going as fast as I could the whole rest of the way,’’ said Kempainen. ‘‘I couldn’t see the leaders pretty quickly. So, I was under the impression I really wasn’t running all that fast. It wasn’t until the last mile that somebody yelled something that gave me a sense of what my projected time would be. I was pretty surprised coming up on the finishing clock that I was going to run that fast. I would have thought if I’d run that fast I would have placed better.’’