diamond geezer

 Friday, September 24, 2010

London's unique in the history of the Olympics. It's the only city in the world to have been awarded the Games three times. And that means three marathons. Every one of them has followed a different route. None of those different routes have overlapped in any way. And all of the routes have been controversial in some way or other. Or will be controversial, very shortly, alas.

London Olympic Marathon Route 1908

1908 Marathon plaque, EtonThe 1908 Olympic stadium was located at White City, to the west of London, which was hosting the Franco-British Exhibition at the time. Marathons were usually 25 miles long back then, so the organisers planned to start the race outside Eton College which was an appropriate distance away. There's still a metal plaque bolted to a wall above Barnespool Bridge in Eton announcing that the race has 25 miles (or 40.2 kilos) to go. It was royalty who added the route controversy in 1908, first moving the start back to Windsor Castle (26 miles) and then adding 385 yards onto the end so that the race could finish in front of the Royal Box. 26 miles and 385 yards has been the official length of marathon races ever since, and the extra 5% is solely thanks to King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. [Full story here]
What was the route? Windsor Castle, Eton, Slough, Iver Heath, Uxbridge, Ickenham, Ruislip, Eastcote, Pinner, Harrow, Sudbury, Wembley, Harlesden, East Acton, Wormwood Scrubs, White City
Seriously... Slough, Pinner, Harlesden and Wormwood Scrubs?!? Yes, there were no TV bosses to keep happy in those days.
Can I see the precise route on a map? Certainly.
What's the route like today? I travelled the entire 26 miles on the marathon's 100th anniversary back in 2008. I didn't run it, obviously, and I took the bus for half, but I still walked 13 miles and blogged from various points along the way. I don't think I'd recommend it.
Did you take any photos? Yes, 35 of them.
What happened to the White City Stadium? It got knocked down, and the BBC Media Village now stands on the site. You can still see the finishing line marked in the piazza outside the One Show studio.

London Olympic Marathon Route 1948
The 1948 Olympic stadium was located at Wembley, to the northwest of London. Britain had taken on the Games in the aftermath of World War 2 because nobody else was willing (or able) to have a go, so these were very much an Austerity Olympics. Wartime damage was still widespread in the West End and City, so organisers decided to send the marathon in the opposite direction. That meant less depressing views, but absolutely no famous landmarks whatsoever. Nobody complained (obviously, because they were simply happy to take part), but it wasn't the most uplifting of routes.
What was the route? Wembley Stadium, Kingsbury, Queensbury, Stanmore, Edgware, Mill Hill, Borehamwood, Radlett, Watling Street, Elstree, Stanmore, Queensbury, Kingsbury, Wembley Stadium
Seriously... Stanmore, Edgware, Borehamwood and Radlett?!? Yes, there were no TV bosses to keep happy in those days.
Can I see the precise route on a map? I've not managed to track down the precise roads followed, but I can let you see a map of where I think the route might have gone. I'm almost certainly wrong, sorry, especially on the big loop through Edgware, Mill Hill and Borehamwood. But you'll get the out-of-town flavour of it all.
Can anyone bear witness to the race? Alan Lawrence, now the curator of Elstree and Boreham Wood Museum, was present at the start and finish. There might be more information at the Museum, but it has such a sparse website that I couldn't possibly tell.

London Olympic Marathon Route 2012 (current)
The 2012 Olympic stadium is located at Stratford, to the east of London. It's located a few hundred yards from the point where London's three poorest boroughs meet, in the hope that legacy development will help to raise the economic profile of the surrounding area. The 2012 marathon is still scheduled to end up here (until bosses decree otherwise) after running three times round a central London loop.
What is the route? Tower Bridge, [Tower, Monument, Cannon Street, Embankment, Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Strand, Fleet Street, St Paul's, Bank, Aldgate]×3 Whitechapel, Stepney, Mile End, Bow, my house, Stratford
Seriously... Whitechapel, Stepney, Mile End and Bow?!? Absolutely, these are places with true atmosphere and history. There's even a plan called High Street 2012 to freshen up the East End stretch before the Olympic crowds arrive. As part of HS2012, English Heritage are pumping millions into a special Historic Building Conservation Scheme, and unveiled the first fruits of their labours in Whitechapel only last week. Several other architectural clusters along the road will get their spruce up later, with brickwork repaired and period features restored. My road should look a lot nicer by the time the marathon passes this way. Or not.
Are the three miles through the East End really so tedious and ugly? I took 90 photos of High Street 2012 a couple of summers ago. I think it's fascinating and historic, but you be the judge.
Can I see the precise route on a map? The London 2012 website used to have a map, but it's long disappeared. This badly-spelt Wikipedia sketch will have to do instead.
What are the chances that this route will survive another few weeks? Don't hold your breath.

London Olympic Marathon Route 2012 (actual)

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