Explosions Disrupts Boston Marathon, One Of The Oldest Races In The World—And One Of The Most Important

As a sports lover and as a Bostonian, I’m devastated to hear of the explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon that appears to have, at minmum, severely injured a number of the runners. My colleagues at ThinkProgress will be covering the details of the explosion on the home page as we hear more, and gather credible, verified information about whether people have died in the incident, whether there was more than one explosion, and whether this was an intentional act or a dreadful accident.

Boston is a city particularly defined by its sports teams and sporting events, and the Boston Marathon is one of the most important of them, even if it doesn’t inspire the same local fervor as the Red Sox or the Patriots, though it does attract 500,000 spectators each year. The Boston Marathon is the oldest continuously-run annual marathon in the world, and the second-oldest footrace, inspired in its first year, 1897, by the marathon at the 1896 Olympics.

It’s also been a significant social flashpoint as well as an athletic monument. During the Korean War, Korean-Americans were banned from the race. Walter Brown, who was the president of the Boston Athletic Association at the time justified the decision by saying that “While American soldiers are fighting and dying in Korea, every Korean should be fighting to protect his country instead of training for marathons.”

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer obtained a race number for the marathon by registering under the name “K. V. Switzer” at a time when women were formally denied admission to the marathon. Jock Semple, a race official for the marathon, tried to tear Switzer’s number off her body during the race, only to be pushed out of the way by Switzer’s boyfriend. He became famous when photographs of the incident were published widely, but it’s less well-acknowledged that he ended up helping to oversee the addition of women to the Boston Marathon, and became a champion of female runners. Switzer’s race also became a key part of the fight over women’s participation in athletics: the Amateur Athletic Union banned women from competing against men in any sport after her race. She was one of the subjects of PBS’s feminist history Makers, and you can watch her speak about her experiences in the race here:

The race has also been a spotlight for disability rights. Dick and Rick Hoyt have run the marathon as a father-son team 30 times, Dick running while pushing his son Rick, who was born in cerebral palsy, in a wheelchair. The Hoyt family resisted counsel to institutionalize Rick after he was diagnosed, and Dick began running the marathon once advances in communications technology helped Rick let his parents know that he was interested in athletics. “When we started running in road races and stuff, I used to get a lot of phone calls and letters from other families that had disabled people, and they were very upset with me; they said, `What are you doing dragging the disabled son through all these races? Are you just looking for glory for yourself?”‘ Dick Hoyt told Sports Illustrated for a story published a few days ago. “What they didn’t realize: He was the one dragging me through all these races.” Among my hopes and prayers today is that if the Hoyts were running in their 31st Boston Marathon, that they are safe.