The origin of the modern marathon distance, 26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometers, can be traced back to the 1908 London Olympics. Prior to that, marathon races had varied in distance during different events.
The 1908 London Olympics were originally scheduled to take place in Rome, but due to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the Games were relocated to London. As a result, the marathon course in London was set to start at Windsor Castle and finish in front of the royal box at the Olympic Stadium.
The distance for the race was initially planned to be approximately 25 miles, in line with the marathon distance of previous Olympic Games. However, in a decision that would forever alter the course of marathon history, the British royal family requested that the race start at Windsor Castle so that their children could witness the start of the event. This added about 1.2 miles to the race, making it a total of 26.2 miles.
The American athlete, Johnny Hayes, who finished second, was declared the winner. Hayes' victory solidified the new distance of 26.2 miles as the official marathon distance. The decision to retain the longer distance of the 1908 London Olympics was officially recognized by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) in 1921.
The precise distance of 26.2 miles became the standard for all future marathon races, and it remains the iconic distance of marathons worldwide to this day. The 1908 London Olympics not only introduced a new distance for the marathon but also created one of the most enduring and challenging events in the world of sports, carrying the legacy of an impromptu addition requested by the British royal family over a century ago.
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