Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

In addition to the cycling road race at Broadmeadows, there were three athletics events contested primarily outside of the Main Stadium, although all had their start and finish in the M.C.G.  The events were unusual in that no world records existed given the variations in natural terrain which they covered; there was an official "Olympic Best Time", but even this was confined to the Marathon as the two walking events were new to the Melbourne Games.

20 Kilometre Walk (28 November). This was a new event, replacing the 10 km event of the Helsinki Games. Commencing at 2.50 p.m., the walk was east along Brunton Avenue to Punt Road, then eight laps of the loop along Batman Avenue to the Swan Street bridge, then along Alexandra Avenue before returning to the main stadium. The event attracted 21 participants from 10 nations.  As expected, the U.S.S.R. dominated the walk, taking all three medals.

50 Kilometre Walk (24 November) Also a new event which  followed the same course as the Marathon (42.195 km), but extended to near the corner of Springvale and Dandenong roads, this section of around four kilometres rising and falling about 80 metres.   Under warm and trying conditions with a hot northerly-westerly wind, only six competitors completed the course in under five hours.  The shock, but wildly applauded winner of the Gold Medal was Norman Read from New Zealand, but noted as born in Great Britain and taking out N.Z. citizenship only a few months before the Games.

Marathon (1 December). The event became the first in Olympic history to have the field recalled shortly after the start after several runners fell in a pile-up on the first lap.    Commencing with two-and-a-half laps of the M.C.G., the route travelled west along Brunton Avenue to St  Kilda Road, south to the Junction, and then south-east along Dandenong Road to Clayton at a point just past the intersection of Huntingdale Road, returning the same route to the Main Stadium.

The Gold Medal was taken by thirty-six -year-old Algerian-born Alain Mimoun of France by just over a minute and a half - Mimoun later revealed he had run with the knowledge that his 26-year-old wife back in France had given birth to their first child just a day before the event.

Forty-six runners started, 33 finished, with the last man, a diminutive Japanese runner, finishing forty minutes after Mimoun, but awarded a hero's reception when he struggled into the arena, the only man outside three hours.

The Marathon, one of the most highly respected of Olympic events, is based upon a popular myth stemming from the Battle of Marathon (circa 530 B.C.) in which a Greek messenger Pheidippides (sometimes Philippides, but for now, Phil-the-Greek)  ran to Athens from the town of Marathon carring the message of a Greek victory, supposedly gasping before the magistrates 'Joy, we win!' before he dropped dead from exhaustion at their feet

Given the antiquity and doubt over the history, the race distance varied from 40 to 42 kilometres (25 to 26 miles) in the early Olympic Games, typically based upon the distance between two points that the organisers found convenient.

The 1908 London Olympics marked the introduction of the now standard distance of 26 miles, 385 yards (42.195 km), but was not until the 1924 Paris Olympics that the distance became the international standard.

The original acceptance of the distance in London in 1908 remains significant in that it remains the only set distance of any Olympic event expressed in non-metric terms.

(I recall the marathon route being designated by green broken lines painted along the roadway to ensure runners that may have become separated from the main group remained "on-course" and some fifteen years later trying to spot the remains of the lines if the regular “Sunday drive” took us over any part of the circuit)


Playgrounds : Road Runners

Click above for the 50 Km Walk and Marathon routes.  

The arrow indicates the approximate turning point of the Marathon.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Walker

… but L. Spirine of the U.S.S.R has the  thoughts of a Gold Medal to console him as he approaches the Main Stadium on the last lap of the 20 Kilometre Walk.

Below : The Marathon field enters St. Kilda Road with around another 22 miles to look forward to.