The starting line at the Boston Marathon: Camaraderie meets competition as 30,000-plus people of all ages, colors and nationalities squeeze together waiting for pistol to fire. A far as you can see, limbs, heads and a vast collage of clashing and vibrant colors abound, while the smell of tiger balm and underarm odor permeates the air along with the excitement. The legendary marathon is about to begin.
The 120th anniversary of the Boston Marathon is celebrated with the first-ever feature length documentary, BOSTON: An American Running Story, about famous runners–past and present. Boston-born, Academy Award® winner Matt Damon narrates.
Directed by award-winning filmmaker Jon Dunham, known for his “Spirit of the Marathon” films. the documentary will be simultaneously screened in more than 500 theaters nationwide on April 19th, including in Seattle.
“BOSTON” tells the story of the oldest annually-contested marathon from its humble origin of 15 runners in 1897 to the present day race with 30,000-to 33,000 runners each year. Add to that a half million spectators, 8,500 volunteers, and a thousand reporters from 100 different outlets.
Originally, the race was held on Patriot’s Day, April 19th, a regional holiday commemorating Paul Revere’s famous Midnight Ride and the beginning of the Revolutionary War. In years when the 19th fell on a Sunday, the race was held the following Monday. Finally in 1969, Patriots Day was officially moved to the third Monday in April. Boston folks call it “Marathon Monday.”
The Boston Marathon was the brainchild of Boston Athletic Association member and inaugural U.S. Olympic team manager John Graham, who was inspired by the marathon at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. The Boston race was 24.5 miles long until 1908, when the marathon’s distance was changed to its current length, 26.2-miles (42.2-kilometers) to meet Olympic standards.
And so it was, that on April 19, 1897, John J. McDermott of New York won the first Boston Marathon with a time of two hours, 55 minutes and 10 seconds. Fifteen runners started the race; only 10 finished. McDermott won by six minutes and 52 seconds.
Along the way there have been plenty of benchmarks.
1966: Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb 1966 hid in the bushes near the start until race began. Women weren’t allowed to complete in the marathon until 1972. But she was determined. She became the first woman to run the entire Boston Marathon.
1967: Kathrine Switzer, registered as “K. V. Switzer”, was the first woman to run with a race number. She finished, even though officials tried to physically remove her from the race after discovering she was a woman.
1972: American Nina Kuscsik became the first woman to officially win the Boston Marathon. She became an athlete for all seasons. Before she started racing, Kuscsik was New York State women’s speed skating champion, New York State women’s roller-skating champion, and New York State women’s bicycling champion–all in same year. A few years later (1977), she set a record for a 50-mile run of 6:35:53 in New York’s Central Park, And in 1979, 1980 and 1981, she was the first woman to finish the Empire State Building Run-Up. .
1975: Boston became the first major marathon to include a wheelchair division competition. When Bob Hall asked to compete in his wheelchair, he was told that he wouldn’t get a race number, but he would be recognized as an official finisher–if he completed the race under three hours and 30 minutes. Hall finished in two hours and 58 minutes, paving the way for the wheelchair division.
1996: The Boston Marathon Memorial in Copley Square, not far from the finish line, was installed to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the race.
2011: On April 18th, Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya won the Boston Marathon with a time of 2:03:02. Although this was the fastest Marathon ever run at the time, officials claimed his time was ineligible for world record status because the Boston course didn’t meet some of the criteria.
2013: Although the documentary touches on the finish-line bombings that killed three spectators and wounded 260 others, the film focuses on the euphoric race the year after the attacks.
2014: Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia was named women’s winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon, because Rita Jeptoo failed her drug test. Deba finished in a time of 2:19:59 and became the course record holder.
2016: American Jami Marseilles became the first female double amputee to finish the Boston Marathon. She was a self-confessed couch potato lost both to frostbite when she was 19 years old. But after her legs were amputated, she started exercising. Eight years later, fitted for prosthetics, she started running and the rest is history.
Wellesley College is 22 years older than the Boston Marathon. Starting with the first-ever marathon in 1897, Wellesley women launched the tradition known as the Scream Tunnel. Today, thousands of women line up about mid-way through the course. They hoot, holler, high-five, wave signs, hug, and even bestow kisses. Runners say the Scream Tunnel is so loud, they can hear it a mile away. .
One of the more colorful runners in Boston’s marathon history is the infamous Boston Billy (Bill Rodgers). For six years, he dominated the Boston and New York City marathons. He won both races four times between 1975 and 1980. No man before or since has beat his record. Blue-collar Bostonians loved him. Along the course, heads would pop out of manhole covers and yell, “Kick their asses, Billy!”
“Like Vladimir Nabokov,” Billy claimed to be a lepidopterist, and as a boy, he chased butterflies with a homemade net. That’s how he began running. As an adult, perhaps part of his success was due to his weird food habits. “As a kid, he put ketchup on brownies, peanut butter on eggs, mayonnaise on everything,” revealed his younger sister Martha. In his competitive prime, his post-run snack meant sticking a fork in a jar of peanut butter, then plunging it into a bottle of bacon bits.
Matt Damon remembers Billy. Although the actor himself has never run the marathon, his father and brother have done so four times. As a child, Damon cheered from the fire station in Newton, Massachusetts, which the runners pass just before they face Heartbreak Hill (near the 20-mile mark.) “I’ll never forget standing there in the crowd with my brother, Kyle,” Damon recalls. “First, we would look for Bill Rodgers. And then, in the very same race with some of the most talented runners on earth, we would find our smiling–and grimacing–40-year-old dad,”
The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon and ranks as one of the world’s best-known road racing events. It is one of six World Marathon Majors, and is one of five major events held in the United States during both World Wars (The Kentucky Derby, Penn Relays, Rose Parade, and Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show are the other five).
The film features many of the greatest marathoners ever to have graced the Boston marathon. Filmmakers spent three years interviewing champions and amateurs from all over the world, as well as locals of the Marathon communities
“BOSTON” is much more than a running documentary; it is the timeless story about triumph over adversity for both runners and spectators.
Tickets for the cinema screenings can be purchased online by visiting www.FathomEvents.com or at participating theater boxoffices. Fans throughout the U.S. will be able to enjoy the event in 500-plus movie theaters through Fathom’s Digital Broadcast Network (DBN). Acclaimed producer Frank Marshall of The Kennedy/Marshall Company, is executive producer.