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Marathon 2004 – Kenya dominates the marathon scene for the men (sub 2:20:00) and - surprisingly – the USA for the women (sub 2:55:00)

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.


© Victah Sailer

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 runners.

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 statistical chart.)

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 Hartmann.

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.

Horst Milde

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 Kinetics 2000.

Here you can

download the figures as PDF-file. 

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