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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 April, 2004, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
The London Marathon story
Dick Beardsley and Inge Simonsen cross the line together in the first race
Dick Beardsley and Inge Simonsen finish the first marathon together
The London Marathon was the brainchild of former middle distance runner Chris Brasher, winner of 3000m steeplechase gold at the 1956 Olympics and one-time 5000m world record holder.

He returned from taking part in the 1979 New York Marathon an inspired man - and with the seeds of an idea planted.

Writing about his experience in the Observer, Brasher could not hide his admiration for the event.

"To believe this story, you must believe that the human race can be one joyous family, working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible," he mused.

"Last Sunday, in one of the most trouble-stricken cities in the world, 11,532 men and women from 40 countries in the world, assisted by over a million black, white and yellow people, laughed and cheered and suffered during the greatest folk festival the world has seen.

"I wonder whether London could stage such a festival? We have the course, a magnificent course.... but do we have the heart and hospitality to welcome the world?"

Encouraged by the response he received, Brasher and Observer editor Donald Trelford met with the Greater London Council, the Metropolitan Police and athletics' governing bodies early in 1980.

After studying the organisation and finances of both the New York and Boston marathons, Brasher put together a budget for a similar race in London, and was given a cautious green light by the authorities.

Gilette sponsored the race to the tune of 50,000, and the granting of charitable status to the race was crucial in calming the fears of GLC leader Sir Horace Cutler, who insisted; "You never ask the ratepayers to bail you out."

The chosen date for the inaugural race was 29 March 1981 with 7,747 people accepted as starters from more than 20,000 applicants.

The race itself was won in exactly the manner Brasher had hoped.

American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen led home the field of 6,255 finishers, crossing the line hand-in-hand in a deliberate dead heat.

Around 25 minutes later, Briton Joyce Smith won the women's race in a new national record.

Numbers have continued to grow since those humble beginnings and a mark of the success of the first London Marathon could be seen the following year when more than 90,000 people from across the world applied to take part.

In the 20 years since that first race more than 540,000 runners have completed the 26.2 miles around London's streets.

Last year 32,563 people completed the course, a mere 336 shy of the previous best finishing total set in 2002 - a record for a marathon.

Each year 76% of the London field raises more than 30m for good causes and since 1981 the London Marathon Charitable Trust has distributed more than 12m to the London Boroughs from its surplus.

Brasher's vision holds as true today as it did in 1981.

Farewell to a visionary
28 Feb 03  |  Athletics

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