A trip down marathon lane

Step back in time: a runner passes through Borehamwood in the 1948 Olympic marathon

Step back in time: a runner passes through Borehamwood in the 1948 Olympic marathon

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The marathon route is a part of any host city's Olympic heritage and a site of sporting history. On July 29, 1948, nearly 60 years ago, the Olympics arrived at Wembley Stadium after a break of 12 years caused by the Second World War.

The planners of the 1948 marathon had to organise a 26-mile journey, avoiding the centre of a bomb-damaged London, which meant runners passing through Borehamwood, Elstree and Radlett on their historic journey.

The Olympics of 1948 was the first since 1936, but the event was marred by the post-war climate. Germany was not invited, the Soviet Union was banned from international sport and Japan declined its invitation.

Alan Lawrence, curator of Elstree and Boreham Wood Museum, said: "Britain was the only country after the war which was prepared to put on the Olympic Games. I saw the start and finish of the marathon in the Wembley Stadium and on the day Britain won three silver medals, one of which being Tom Richards who came second in the marathon.

"What makes me so proud of our section of the marathon is that Elstree and Borehamwood were a very prominent part of where the race was run."

The runners started with a lap of the track before leaving the stadium to run north through Kingsbury to Stanmore, where they turned east to Mill Hill, then north through Boreham-wood and on to Radlett, 15 miles from the stadium. Here, the route turned south again along Watling Street, through Elstree, back to Stanmore and finally back to the stadium.

"We ought to be extremely proud of the fact we had the marathon because the same route in Borehamwood and Elstree will never be used again"

Alan Lawrence

Along the route runners passed by Stirling Corner, The Thatched Barn (now the Holiday Inn, in Elstree Way), and Elstree High Street; the highest and most punishing section of the marathon, according to Mr Lawrence.

The winner of the August marathon was Delfo Cabrera of Argentina who completed the course in around two-and-a-half hours, with the British Thomas Richards just 16 seconds behind him.

Mr Lawrence said: "What made it a particularly poignant race is that Etienne Gailley of Belgium wasn't a favourite, but he took the lead early on.

"I was there watching him finish, he started going the wrong way around the track and, after being guided in the right direction, was staggering trying to complete it. Eventually, he came third."

Sequences from the marathon were even successfully recreated for the film XIVth Olympiad - The Glory of Sport, directed by Castleton Knight.

Liz Stoneman, a volunteer at the museum, witnessed the marathon as it passed through Borehamwood.

She said: "We were stood by the church in Shenley Road. It was marvellous, though we were so upset to see the frontrunner Etienne Gailly struggling as he had a long way to go. We cheered them on and wished them well as they passed."

With London 2012 Olympics approaching, the marathon route is almost unrecognisable to that of 1948. Starting at Tower Bridge, it will pass the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Place, Trafalgar Square and St Paul's Cathedral to the finish line in the new Olympic Stadium in Stratford, east London.

Mr Lawrence said: "Elstree and Borehamwood had a population of about 10,000 after the war and to think that those two areas were in fact hosting a significant part of the Olympic marathon is great.

"We ought to be extremely proud of the fact we had the marathon because the same route in Borehamwood and Elstree will never be used again."

For more information on the 1948 marathon visit Elstree and Boreham Wood Museum's exhibition in Drayton Road, Borehamwood.

If you have any memories or photographs of the 1948 event, contact the museum on 020 8953 1258.

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