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John McDermott of New York City wins the first Boston Marathon in 1897


The first Boston Marathon was held on April 19,1897, inspired by the first modern Olympic Games held the previous year in Athens, Greece. 

The race was sponsored by the Boston Athletic Association, and the initial field consisted of fifteen runners, of which ten finished the race. John J. McDermott of the Pastime Athletic Club of New York won the race, finishing in two hours, fifty-five minutes and ten seconds.

Thomas E. Burke, who won first place in the 100 and 440 yard races at the Athens Olympics in 1896, was the official starter of the race.

The race started in Ashland and finished at Irvington Oval near Copley Square in Boston, which had a 220 yard track.  There BAA officials had organized an entire track and field meet in the spirit of the Olympic Games the previous year.

Among the most talked about races was the 100 yard dash, which had a stellar field that included Tom Burke of Boston University, J.S. Quinn  and W.J. Holland from Boston College, Frank Quinlan from Fordham University, and D.C. Byers of Yale.  Holland won the race, and his BC teammate Quinn took second.

McDermott apparently lost nine pounds running the race, and afterwards said, "This will probably be my last long race...look at my feet," wrote The Boston Globe in its April 20, 1897 story.  McDermott returned to Boston in 1898 and finished fourth.

For more on Boston's Irish history and heritage, visit IrishHeritageTrail.com.

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