Dr. Dave E. Martin (Atlanta/USA) has put together the results of the
marathon races in 2004 in a unique statistical study, evaluating the
times below 2:20:00 for the men and 2:55:00 for the women.
He not only did that for the year 2004, but he also started with the
first recorded men’s results under 2:20:00 in 1953 and with the women’s
results starting in 1971.
Since 1953, men have run the marathon under 2:20:00 a recorded total
of 28,603 times, and since 1971, 28,684 women have run times better
than 2:55:00. That means that despite the shorter time period, the
women have really caught up.
In 1953, James Peters (GBR) was the first man to run under 2:20:00.
He recorded all of the times under 2:20:00 in that year: 2:18:41 on
June 13, 1953 in Chiswick /England – 2:19:22 on September 12, 1953 in
Enschede / Holland and 2:18:35 on October 4, 1953 in Turku / Finland.
The fourth time under 2:20:00 was also run by James Peters, with
2:17:40 on June 26, 1954 in Chiswick / England. No other athlete ran
under this mark in 1955, but in 1956, the Finns made a breakthrough: On
August 12, 1956, four Finnish runners ran under this sound barrier in
Pieksamaki / Finland. Paavo Kotila won in 2:18:05 ahead of Eino Oksanen
in 2:18:51, Veiko Karvonen in 2:18:57 and Eino Pulkinen in 2:19:27.
There were also excellent results at the famous Boston Marathon on
April 20, 1953, with three times under 2:20:00: Yamada (JPN) in
2:18:51, Kavonen (FIN) in 2:19:09 and Leandersson (SWE) in 2:19:36.
However, later course surveying revealed that all of the races between
1951 and 1957 in Boston were 1,183 yards too short. Several curves
“disappeared” due to roadwork for the automobiles.
The first woman to run under three hours was the 28-year-old
Adrienne Beames (USA) on August 31, 1971 in Werribee, Victoria
(Australia) – she ran in 2:46:30 and thus improved the previous record
held by Elizabeth Bonner (USA) by more than 15 minutes. Adrienne Beames
came in 5th of the 18 runners and 15 finishers (mixed). The second
woman to run the titillating time under 2:55:00 was Cheryl Bridges
(USA) in 2:49:40 on December 5, 1971 in Culver City (USA).
In 1983, there was another burst in performance with 1,134 men running under 2:20:00 and 1,038 women under 2:55:00.
The women’s results improved every year, culminating in a record number
of 1,521 times under 2:55:00 in 2004. Last year the men also reached
their top achievements with 1,205 performances under 2:20:00.
For the year 2004, Dave Martin analysed the nationality of the runners who beat the 2:20:00 and 2:55:00 marks.
The men’s results were not surprising:
446 of the 1,205 performances worldwide under 2:20:00 were achieved by runners from Kenya (27 %),
126 performances under 2:20:00 were by Japanese men, and 62 by men from
Ethiopia. Only 7 times under 2:20:00 were achieved by German male
Men (by nationality) under 2:20:00 in the year 2004:
KEN 446, JPN 126, ETH 62, RUS 56, USA 46, ITA 41, CHN 36, TAN 32,
MAR 30, BRA 27 – GER 7! (The other nations are listed in the
What is surprising, however, are the statistics of the women’s performances under 2:55:00 in the year 2004:
The USA leads with 227 times under 2:55:00, followed by Japan (176),
Russia (167) and China (123). The German female runners, with 79 times
under 2:55:00, lie just behind the runners from Kenya, who have beaten
the 2:55:00 mark 80 times.
USA 227, JPN 176, RUS 167, CHN 123, KEN 80, GER 79, ITA 56, ETH 49, POL 45, FRA 42 (The rest can be seen in the statistics.)
A few years ago, Dave Martin offered a prediction on when a woman
would break the 2:20:00 barrier — “in the spring of 2002”. Naoko
Takahashi (JPN) actually beat this mark on September 30, 2001 at the
real,- BERLIN-MARATHON with a time of 2:19:46. He has predicted that
the first man will break the 2:00:00 mark in the year 2015. The current
world record lies at 2:04:55, set by Paul Tergat at the 30th real,-
BERLIN-MARATHON on September 28, 2003.
The Kenyan runners had ruled the middle distances for years until
they also “discovered” the marathon. In his book “Running Stories from
Africa“, Robert Hartmann writes about the superiority of the Kenyans,
who regularly hold half of the top ten rankings in the six lists of top
world performances for the distances between the 800 m race and the
marathon. “Scientists have not yet discovered the final truth. The
mothers say, however, “It is the milk!” - “There is no secret other than hard work,” says Kipchoge Keino, the legend, Olympic champion from 1968 and 1972.
Passion and ability to accept suffering
“The runners impress me with their passion and ability to accept
suffering” (from Robert Hartmann’s book). Billy Konchellah, a Masai who
was world champion in 1987 and 1991 in the 800m race, suggests a
welcome advantage: “The relationship between strength and load is
better in our bodies than for white people...and our runners have ideal
figures. One notices that the arms and legs are longer. And the Kenyans
also speak of the running muscle, Kwaryat power. That is the power that
comes from your calves.“ (from Robert Hartmann’s book). Hartman writes
in his book: ”One rarely sees a fat child in the outback“ and “the
Kenyans are barefoot throughout their childhood, always moving about on
the warm earth.” “That strengthens their feet that can carry them far.
They hardly need to exert themselves in order to "fly over hurdles or
water pits — as if they were only small termite hills.” - from
"Läufergeschichten aus Afrika"(Hasselroth: Verlag Dr. Harald Schmid,
2004 – ISBN 3-938101-01-6 –
Maybe those are some of the reasons why the male runners from Kenya,
and of course even more in the future the women runners from Kenya as
well, will continue to dominate all of the large races around the world
in the disciplines between 800 m and the marathon. It is thus almost
logical that the sensational statistics by Dave Martin on the
superiority of the Kenya runners support the explanations by Robert
For the runners from other countries, Kipchoge Keino’s comment that
their success is founded on lots of “hard work” can offer a small
consolation. Paula Radcliffe (GBR), the current marathon world record
holder with a time of 2:15:25 on April 13, 2003 in London, can
certainly prove that.
Dr. Dave E. Martin
Dr. David E. Martin PHD (College of Health Sciences, Georgia State
University, Atlanta/USA) is a practicing physiologist and at the same
time combines his interest in sport history with organisational aspects
of large sport events. His input in the Olympic Games in both Barcelona
and Atlanta involved preparing the athletes for the various
temperatures and climates.
He chairs the department for sport sciences of the US Track and
Field Association, is a fellow of the American College of Sports
Medicine and is also a member of the Association of Track and Field
Staticians and the International Society of Olympic Historians.
He often accompanies the US track and field team to large
international events, such as the recent Olympic Games in Athens in
2004. He was directly involved in successes of Deena Kastor for the
women (bronze) and Mebrahtom Keflezighi for the men (silver) — he also
predicted these results.
Dr. Dave Martin is a member of the board of directors of AIMS
(Association of International Marathons and Road Races) and is
responsible for the voluminous statistics of the largest 10 k, half
marathon, and marathon races in the world. Dave Martin, together with
Roger W.H. Gynn, authored the book and bestseller “THE MARATHON
FOOTRACE“ (1979) and “THE OLYMPIC MARATHON. The History and Drama of
Sports most Challenging Event“ (also with Roger W. H. Gynn)- Human
Here you can
download the figures as PDF-file.