Michel Bréal first proposed the marathon race in the 1896 Olympics in Athens. The idea was supported by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee and widely regarded as the father of modern Olympic Games.
Long-distance races are typically run on foot as road races, but they can also be run on track routes. Running or a combination of running and walking is usually used to complete it. The wheelchair division was recently introduced. Every year, over 800 marathons are held under various competitions.
Marathons are officially set at 26.2 miles (42.195 km) by the International Association of Athletics Federations in 1921. (IAAF). Prior to January 2004, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) did not officially recognize world records; rather, marathon best times were simply referred to as ‘world best’.
On September 25, 2022, a Kenyan – Eliud Kipchoge – set the current world record time for the male category in the Berlin Marathon, finishing in 2 hours, 1 minute, and 09 seconds. While the world record for the female category was set on October 13, 2019, in the Chicago Marathon by Brigid Kosgei of Kenya, who finished in 2 hours 14 minutes and 4 seconds, breaking Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain’s 16-year record at the London Marathon.
African athletes have dominated the record books in various marathon competitions over the years. The marathon Greatest of All Time from Africa is featured below.
Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya)
Born on November 5, 1984, the Kenyan long-distance runner is widely regarded as the greatest marathoner of all time. He began his career at a young age, running three kilometers daily to his school, Kaptel Secondary School, in Kapsisiywa, Nandi County, Kenya. He currently holds the world record with a time of 2:01:09 set during the 2022 Berlin Marathon. Out of the six fastest marathons in history, he ran four of them.
He competed in a number of Olympic Games, World Championships, World Cross Country Championships, World Indoor Championships, Common Wealth Games, and World Marathon Majors.
He has 14 gold medals, four silver medals, and two bronze medals to his name. At the World Marathon Majors, he alone won ten gold medals. After Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia and Waldemar Cierpinski of East Germany, he is the third man to successfully defend an Olympic marathon and the third Olympic champion to win back-to-back Olympic marathons.
Some of his honors include: 2015, 2016, 2017 – AIMS Best Marathon Runner -Men, 2018, 2019 – IAAF Male Athlete of the Year, 2019, 2019 – BBC Sports Personality World Sport Star of the Year.
The New African magazine named him one of the Top 100 Most Influential Africans in 2019. The Association of National Olympic Committees named him the Best Male Athlete Tokyo 2020 Olympics in 2021. (ANOC).
Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia)
Haile was born on April 18, 1973, in Ethiopia, and retired from active sports in May 2015. The retired track and road long-distance runner won two Olympic gold medals and four World Championship titles in the 10,000 meters race. He won 16 medals in various Olympic Games, World Championships, World Cross Country Championships, World Indoor Championships, and African Championships (10 gold, 3 silver, and 3 bronze).
He rose to prominence after winning the 5,000m and 10,000m races at the 1992 World Junior Championships in Seoul, South Korea.
Haile broke 61 Ethiopian national records and set 27 world records. In September 2008, at the age of 35, he won the Berlin Marathon in a world record time of 2:03:59, breaking his previous world record by 27 seconds. Three years later, at the age of 37, another Ethiopian, Kenenisa Bekee, broke his record with a time of 2:01:41.
Shambel Abebe Bikila (Ethiopia)
He was born in Jato, Mendida, Ethiopia Empire, on August 7, 1932, and died on October 25, 1973. The late marathon runner was the first Ethiopian and African to win an Olympic gold medal, which he accomplished at the 1960 Olympic marathon, where he made history by running barefoot. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, he won a second gold medal, becoming the first athlete to win back-to-back Olympic marathon titles and the first to successfully defend an Olympic marathon title.
Before entering athletics, he was a member of the Ethiopian Imperial Guard’s 5th Infantry Regiment. He competed in 16 different marathons, winning first place in 12 of them, second place in one, and fifth place in one. Due to sports-related injuries, he was unable to complete his last two competitions in 1967 and 1968.
He only won gold medals in two major events: the I960 Summer Olympics in Rome and the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. His athletic career ended on March 22, 1969, when he was paralyzed in a car accident and died four years later from a cerebral hemorrhage caused by the accident.
Samuel Wanjiru (Kenya)
Samuel was born in Nyahururu, Laikipia County, Nairobi, Kenya, on November 10, 1986. He is the marathon’s youngest gold medalist since 1932. On December 2, 2007, Samuel began his career at the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan. He was the first Kenyan to win Olympic gold in a marathon race, which he accomplished in 2008 in Beijing with a record time of 2:06:32.
On August 26, 2005, in Brussels, Belgium, he set the current World Junior Championship record of 26:41.75 in the 10,000-meter marathon.
He won four gold medals and one silver medal during his career.
Kenyan Most Promising Sportsman of the Year (2005), Kenyan Sportsman of the Year Award (2008), and AIMS World Athlete of the Year Award are among his honors (2008).
Catherine Ndereba, also known as ‘Catherine the Great,’ is a four-time Boston Marathon winner, a two-time World Championship in Athletics winner, and a silver medalist at the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics. She began her career at Ngorano Secondary School in Kenya, where she was born on July 21, 1972.
She competed in two Olympic Games, three World Championships, and a total of twelve World Marathon Majors. During her career, she won eight gold medals, eight silver medals, and one bronze medal in major athletics competitions.
She set the Women’s marathon world record in 2001 with a time of 2:18:47 at the Chicago Marathon.
Kenyan Sportswoman of the Year (2004, 2005), Road Runner of the Year (1996, 1998), and Road Racer of the Year (1999) are among her other honors (1996, 1998).
Brigid is a long-distance runner from Kenya who was born on February 20, 1994. She set a new world record for women in a mixed-sex race with a time of 2:14:04 at the Chicago Marathon in October 2019. She won the Chicago Marathons in 2018 and 2019, the London Marathons in 2019 and 2020, and the Tokyo Marathon in 2021.
She began long-distance training at the age of 17 in her hometown of Elgeyo-Marakwet County, Kenya, where she grew up. She has competed in about twenty competitions, including two major marathons, and has five gold and three silver medals to her name.