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Boston Marathon History: 1956-1960

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Finland's Antti Viskari, a sergeant in the military, shattered the former course record by more than four minutes to finish first in 2:14:24. However, his time was just 19 seconds ahead of runner-up John J. Kelley. In fact, each of the first four runners had eclipsed the former mark, which led to natural questions regarding the exact length of the course. Upon remeasuring, the distance was found to be 1,183 yards short. Road repairs and changes beginning in 1951 were cited as the cause of the shrinking course.


John J. Kelley snapped a streak of 11 foreign wins with an accurately measured course record performance of 2:20:05. This was the first win by an American since the 1945 victory of John A. "The Elder" Kelley. Kelley disposed of a host of foreign competitors near 16 miles and won by almost four minutes. The last to lose contact was 1954 champion Veikko Karvonen as Kelley became the first and only member of the host B.A.A. Running Club to win the orgainzation's signature event.


A foreign runner once again found the finish line ahead of the field as Yugoslavian Franjo Mihalic, the 1956 Olympic runner-up, ran to victory in 2:25:54. Almost five minutes behind was John J. Kelley, who finished second 2:30:51. This marked Kelley's second of five runner-up performances. Mihalic survived the 84-degree day to become the first and only Eastern European resident to win the Boston Marathon.


The Finns continued to show their dominance in the running world as Helsinki police detective Eino Oksanen, third in the 1956 race, claimed the first of his three Boston wins in a time of 2:22:42. John J. Kelley would again finish second.


With Eino Oksanen not returning to defend his title, Finnish countryman Paavo Kotila won this U.S. Olympic trial race in 2:20:54. Kotila left the competition 10 miles into the race for a virtual solo run to the finish. His winning time was the second fastest ever on the measured course. New York's Gordon McKenzie made a late rush to finish second in 2:22:18, and Jim Green of the host B.A.A. Running Club finished third.

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B.A.A. Moment 2

1935 John A. Kelley

Born in West Medford, Massachusetts as one of ten children, Kelley ran track and cross-country at Arlington High School in Massachusetts. He did not finish his first Boston Marathon in 1928, but eventually competed in a record 61 Boston Marathons. A legend of the marathon, Kelley won the 1935 and 1945 runnings of the Boston Marathon. He finished in second place at Boston a record seven times. Between 1934 to 1950, he finished in the top five 15 times at Boston, consistently running in the 2:30s. He ran his last full marathon at Boston in 1992 at the age of 84, his 61st start and 58th finish there.