From the inaugural race in 1981, the London Marathon has become a national institution. The first was run on 29 March 1981, raising money for charity and good causes. Former Olympic champion Chris Brasher helped to establish the race, having participated in the New York Marathon in 1979. Brasher set out six objectives he hoped the London Marathon would achieve:
- To improve the standard and status of British marathon running
- To show mankind that, on occasions, the Family of Man can be united
- To raise money for the provision of much-needed recreation facilities in London
- To help London tourism
- To prove that when it comes to organising major events, 'Britain is best'
- To have fun and provide some happiness and a sense of achievement in a troubled world
In the true spirit of the event, the leading runners in the 1981 race, Norwegian Inge Simonsen and American Dick Beardsley, joined hands to cross the finishing line on Constitution Hill. British athlete Joyce Smith won the women's race.
In 1983, the first wheelchair race was held. This event helped change public attitude to disabled athletes. In that year, the men's wheelchair marathon was won in 3 hours, 20 minutes and 7 seconds. By 1990, that was reduced to 1 hour, 57 minutes and 12 seconds. Later, the mini-marathon for children also incorporated a wheelchair race.
The race starts in Greenwich Park, and the runners head east to Woolwich. Here they turn back west, through Greenwich, and round the Cutty Sark. The runners continue west to Rotherhithe and on to Bermondsey, reaching Tower Bridge at about the halfway point. Runners cross Tower Bridge, and on the north bank turn east again. They eventually reach the Isle of Dogs and head down to the southerly point at Millwall.
The course winds itself back around Canary Wharf and heads up to Blackwall before turning west again towards Tower Bridge. Passing the Tower of London, the runners stay parallel with the river Thames along Victoria Embankment. On reaching Westminster, the end is in sight, as the runners turn towards the finish line.
In 1981, the finish line was on Constitution Hill, but for the second year it moved to Westminster Bridge. In 1994, repairs to the bridge forced it to move to the Mall outside Buckingham Palace, where it remains today.
In 2005, there were 98,500 applicants for places in the marathon. Many of the runners participate in fancy dress. In 1981, a waiter dressed in a dinner jacket and carrying a tray with a bottle of water finished the race in less than three hours. Since then, spectators have witnessed every type of costume from bunny girls to clowns, and from super heroes to pantomime horses. Since 1981 it has been estimated that over 200 million has been raised by competitors for worldwide charities.
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