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Famous Faces of the Boston Marathon

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The Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon, one of the world's iconic long-distance races, has had its share of famous participants since it began in 1897.

Perhaps the most famous Boston runner is Johnny Kelley. A native of West Medford, Mass., he was an accomplished young runner and ran his first Boston in 1928. Before he retired from running, he had run Boston 61 times. His last race, in 1992, was his 58th finish. He was 84. Kelley won twice, in 1935 and 1945. He finished second a record seven times. He is perhaps most famous for a race he did not win, that of 1936. The defending champ that year, Kelley was in the process of passing another runner, Tarzan Brown, in the waning stages of the race when he tapped Brown on the shoulder. Brown, who had been in a funk, brightened up and beat Kelley to the line. This happened near a hill in Newton, and Boston Globe Sports Editor Jerry Nason named it "Hearbreak Hill" because he saw it as the turning point in the race. It has been known as "Heartbreak Hill" ever since. Coming where it is, at mile 20, it can be a bit of a heartbreak for many a runner whose aching legs don't want to run up any kind of hill that late in a 26.2-mile race.

The all-time men's winner is Clarence DeMar. Between 1911 and 1930, he won the race seven times, earning him the nickname "Mr. DeMarathon." He routinely ignored his doctor's advice against running because of a heart murmur. A World War I veteran, he won the Bronze medal in the marathon at the 1924 Summer Olympics.

Boston's Bill Rodgers has written his name into the legends book of the Boston Marathon. The four-time winner also won the New York Marathon four times and competed in the 1976 Olympics. At Boston, Rodgers twice broke the American marathon record. Known as "Boston Billy," he won 22 marathons in his career. He runs a successful business, the Bill Rodgers Running Center, in Boston.

Not every runner who crossed the finish line is still listed as the winner. One such is Rosie Ruiz, who broke the tape at the 1980 Boston Marathon after running far less than 26.2 miles. Ruiz started the race with everyone else but disappeared somewhere along the way and then came out of the crowd in the last mile to "win." She was later disqualified, after race organizers could find no evidence of her running anywhere other than the start or the finish. She never appeared on television until the finish, and no other runners remembered seeing her along the way. Eyewitnesses insisted that she had stepped out of the crowd in the last mile. The win that year then went to Canada's Jacqueline Gareau.

Two men known for their close 1-2 finish are Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley. In 1982, they went head-to-head for much of the race in what has become known as the "Duel in the Sun." Temperatures were very high that year, and Salazar elected not to drink water during the race in order not to lose running time. Beardsley, a highly accomplished distance runner, pushed Salazar the entire way until Salazar pulled away just at the last, after a furious sprint finish. Salazar collapsed not long after finishing.

All-time women's winner Catherine Ndereba of Kenya has won Boston four times, in 2000, 2001, 2004, and 2005, and finished second in 2002. She won a Silver medal in the Olympics twice, in 2004 and 2008. She is also a two-time world champion, in 2003 and 2007.

American Joan Benoit Samuelson burst onto the scene in 1979, wearing a Boston Red Sox cap on the way to victory, beating the course record by eight minutes. She won again in 1983 with a finish time that would not be broken for another 11 years. She was the first Olympic marathon winner, finishing first at the 1984 Summer Olympics, the first in which women competed at that distance.

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