This Week in History
Tom Longboat, Faster than a Speeding Bullet
For the week of Monday April 15, 2002
On April 19, 1907, despite the weather and a challenging course, the Onondaga athlete Tom Longboat won the prestigious Boston Marathon. With this race, which he finished in record time, he joined the ranks of the best long-distance runners of his time.
Tom Longboat was born in the summer of 1886, on the Six Nations Iroquois reserve in Ontario. He grew up amidst the excitement generated by the revival of the Olympic Games and demonstrated his running ability from very early on. In October 1906, Longboat walked away with his first major victory at the Hamilton Around-the-Bay competition. Against all expectations, spectators who were initially unimpressed by this young runner in old shoes watched Longboat reach the finish line three minutes ahead of his closest competitor. In the spring of 1907, Tom Longboat accomplished a new feat when he completed the Boston Marathon in the record time of 2:24:24. He received a hero's welcome upon returning to Toronto. Declared a professional by the New England Amateur Athletic Union, Longboat was banned from attempting to repeat his achievement in the Boston Marathon. In Canada, his trainers delayed his promotion to the professional ranks, which allowed him to compete in the Olympic Games in London in 1908. Despite his disappointing performance at the Olympics (he suddenly collapsed around the 30 km mark), Longboat continued to accumulate victories by winning the Ward's Marathon in Toronto for the third consecutive year.
At a time when professional sport was often reserved for an elite group of white men, Longboat finally received recognition as a professional runner. In 1909, after overcoming British runner Alf Shrubb in front of many spectators at Madison Square Gardens in New York, he won the world's professional marathon championship. Longboat was able to break ahead with his long strides and his spectacular energy reserves. Unbeatable in endurance races longer than 32.2 km, he won large amounts of money and became one of the first Canadians able to support himself as a professional athlete.
Longboat's last great performances were prior to the First World War I. This exceptional Canadian runner died in January 1949, at the age of 62. An annual prize in his name recognizes Aboriginal athletes for excellence in sport. Tom Longboat was designated a person of national historic significance in 1976. He is recognized with a commemorative plaque on the Six Nations reserve.
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