A look at some of the more memorable marathon-record-setting runs from around the world:
Yun Bok Suh, (2:25:39, 1947, Boston)
He was tripped up by a fox terrier at the foot of Heartbreak Hill, scraped a knee and ran the final 12 miles with an untied shoelace. But Yun Bok Suh, a South Korean collegian who stood barely 5 feet tall, still set the first world record on the hilly Hopkinton-to-Boston layout, running away from European champion Mikko Hietanen of Finland by four minutes to become the race’s first Asian champion.
It was an extraordinarily significant moment for Yun’s homeland whose most famous marathoner, Kee Chung Sohn, had been forced to run under a Japanese name (Son Kitei) when he won the 1936 Olympic gold medal for the Rising Sun occupiers. So it was fitting that Yun, who was Sohn’s protege, took down the global mark of 2:26:42 that his mentor had set in 1935. “I could do another 26,” he proclaimed.
Despite his tumble, Sohn reclaimed the lead from Hietanen in just a dozen strides, dashing up the final Newton hill. “He beat it down to about the size and shape of a custard pie,” observed the Globe’s Jerry Nason, who’d given Heartbreak its name. Sohn’s course record stood for a decade until Johnny (The Younger) Kelley’s sole victory. “
Abebe Bikila, (2:15:16, 1960, Rome)
No African runner ever had won the Olympic marathon until he did it in Rome and none before or since has managed it barefoot. But Abebe Bikila’s torchlight sprint over the cobblestones along the Appian Way was one for the ages. “I wanted the world to know that my country, Ethiopa, has always won with determination and heroism,” the imperial guard declared after he’d outkicked Morocco’s Rhadi Ben Adbesselem in view of the Constantine Arch that served as the finish line.
Bikila, a last-minute substitute for Wami Biratu, who’d broken an ankle playing soccer, shaved eight tenths of a second off Sergei Popov’s world mark. His only Boston appearance, in 1963, was more than he could handle, though, as he struggled in fifth in the only race Bikila finished but didn’t win. A year later in Tokyo he became the first man to win consecutive Olympic titles. In 1969 he was paralyzed in a car accident. “It was the will of God that I won the Olympics and it was the will of God that I met with my accident,” Bikila said. “I accepted those victories as I accept this tragedy.”
Joan Benoit 1983 (2:22:43, Boston)
All she hoped for was an Olympic qualifying time. “Deep down I wanted to run 2:23-point-something,” Joan Benoit Samuelson would say years later. Nobody, including herself, figured that she would chop more than two minutes off the global record that Grete Waitz had equaled a day earlier in London. “Lady, you better watch it,” male runners warned her as she sped past them during what still is known as “Joanie’s Run”.
Her feet had blistered by Natick but Samuelson sped onward, covering the first 10 miles in 51:38. Allison Roe, who’d originally set the global mark of 2:25:29, dropped out at 17 miles. Samuelson’s only rival was the clock, which showed 2:22:43 when she broke the tape in what announcer Tom Grilk declared “a ridiculous time” that left runner-up Jacqueline Gareau nearly seven minutes behind.
“There are days when you are on and days when you’re not and I’ve had both,” said Samuelson, who went on to win the inaugural Olympic women’s marathon in Los Angeles a year later and whose Boston mark still is the seventh fastest in course history. “I was on that day.”
Paula Radcliffe, (2:15:25, 2003, London)
Did it matter that she had two male pacemakers when she demolished her own world record in 2003? Paula Radcliffe didn’t think so. “I was actively racing the two guys and I fully believe that I would have run pretty much the same time that day alone,” she said after setting a blistering global mark (2:15:25) in London that still stands. The race itself was a virtual time trial for the Briton, who left runnerup Catherine Ndereba more than four minutes behind. Deena Drossin (Kastor), who finished third, still broke Joan Benoit’s American mark by five seconds.
Radcliffe’s mark, posted in a mixed race, wouldn’t stand under the new rules in effect this year. But the international track-and-field federation still considers it the world standard. “The record will stay,” said IAAF council member Helmut Digel. “Nobody will cancel the record of Paula. That is sure. Her record will never be diminished.” Even if the IAAF had erased it, Radcliffe still would hold the record with the 2:17:42 that she ran in London’s all-women’s race in 2005.