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Saving the Boston Marathon

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“A toxic combination of greed, neglect, and an arrogant opposition to prize money,” is how Boston Globe reporter Brian MacQuarrie describes the atmosphere around the race in the early 1980s – and then explains how it was saved by miracles (‘The Forgotten Story of How the Boston Marathon Almost Collapsed’, Globe Magazine, 4/12/23).  

As the race director in 1983 and 1984, longtime Hopkinton resident and President of the 26.2 Foundation Tim Kilduff had a front-row seat. We asked him, what would he add to the story?

Tim Kilduff

“Selfless volunteers,” he says, right off the bat. “There were a number of selfless people who had respect for the Boston Marathon institution. That group would meet on a regular basis – once a week – and those were the people who understood how to put a successful marathon together, and whose main motive was just to keep the thing going, as opposed to looking for personal recognition. There was no loose-leaf binder to tell us what to do. There were no commercial agreements, so Honeywell provided the timing and scoring, and they stepped right up, and continued to support the race – until it went commercial.”

“The complicated nature of the event.” “The Marathon has many pieces – registration, course safety, water stations, media and government relations, and so forth. Everyone who’s ever run or volunteered, or supported the race, really has a sense of ownership about the race. That includes all the cities and towns, and the political entities that are engaged in those communities. They all felt that they owned a piece of the Boston Marathon – and in some ways they do.”

Turning Pro. “The B.A.A. was founded as a nonprofit to promote amateur sports from day one. It was kind of a gentlemen’s club, steeped in amateurism.  As marathoning began to change – when major marathons like New York came on the scene – with greater clarity around commercialism, Boston was slow to step up. There were still people holding onto the amateur status – you don’t pay runners, you don’t offer prize money – when the world was doing just the opposite.”

Legendary Globe sports writer Will McDonough, whose expose rocked the B.A.A. and the sports world.

Who, then, are the heroes?  “Will McDonough [sportswriter for the Boston Globe]. Dusty Rhodes [head of the Conventures event planning agency]. She was absolutely critical – but that’s a story for later. Jim Davis, who stepped up and asked for nothing in return [the founder of New Balance, who provided $50,000 in 1983 to help sustain the race]. The people who made up the unofficial race committee: Bobby Hall, Kathy Rolfe, Fred Tressler, Chris Lane, the Mass Track & Field Association, and a host of other people. They kept the race going.

“The emotions were running high across the board. The elite runners were making demands for prize money, we had serious legal action going on behind the scenes… While they were arguing about money, we were trying to make sure we could pull off the race and proceed with the litigation, extracting the B.A.A. from a contract that the former president had signed without the B.A.A. board of governors’ approval [B.A.A. president Will Cloney, who resigned under pressure in June 1982; the contract was eventually voided, leaving Kilduff and others scrambling to find funds to stage the 1983 race, according to the Globe]. That’s it in a nutshell. It was an awakening that began with the McDonough articles that started this whole thing.”

“The Boston Marathon was a 12-month story.”  “There were three major television stations in Boston at that time. They all covered the race point-to-point. The Globe, the Herald, the Quincy Patriot Ledger, Lowell Sun… they all had reporters dedicated to running. People read newspapers then. There were columns in those papers all the time about running. They would compete with each other, and that served the B.A.A. well. In a crowded Boston sports market, it kept the Marathon in front of the public. In those days, the Boston Marathon was a 12-month-a-year story.”

Kilduff pauses for a minute, obviously reflecting on the road traveled and what it has meant to him and everyone else. “The years 1983 to 1984 were the beginning of a much-needed transition that ultimately led John Hancock to step up with far, far more than just financial support,” he says. “It also saw the return of elite marathoners, who repositioned Boston as arguably the preeminent long-distance race in the world.”

Bruce MacDonald is on the Board of Directors for the 26.2 Foundation. 


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