Thirty-five years after winning the inaugural London Marathon on 29 March 1981, Dick Beardsley, Inge Simonsen and Joyce Smith will be reunited when they push the famous red button at the ‘Blue Start’ on Shooters Hill, sending some 36,000 runners and wheelchair racers off on their 26.2-mile journey to Westminster.
Beardsley and Simonsen famously crossed the rain-swept Finish Line hand-in-hand at the end of the inaugural elite men’s race 35 years ago, a gesture which has come to symbolise the spirit of the event and will be celebrated this year. Neither had won a marathon before and the winning time of 2:11:48 was a personal best for both.
The three victors were followed across the Finish Line, then on Constitution Hill, by 6,252 other runners, many of them attempting the marathon distance for the first time. As Beardsley famously said afterwards: “What does it matter who wins anyway? As far I’m concerned anyone who finshes this thing is a winner” – a sentiment that survives to this day.
All three went on to further success. Smith returned to win the event again a year later, this time by five and a half minutes in 2:29:43, another British record. At 44 years 195 days she was the oldest woman ever to win the race, an achievement which is yet to be bettered.
Now 77, Smith remains involved in the London Marathon to this day. She is a member of the board of trustees of The London Marathon Charitable Trust, the body set up by race founders Chris Brasher and John Disley to distribute the profits of the event to sport and recreation projects in the capital. Her husband Bryan is a Director of the London Marathon Ltd and a marathon coach who also helps to organise the Virgin Money Giving Mini London Marathon, among other events.
Simonsen went on to run the New York City Marathon later that year and was sixth in the Golden Marathon in Athens in 1982, while Beardsley continued to set personal bests – acquiring a successive string of 13 marathon PBs in all, a Guinness World Record that still stands. At the 1982 Boston Marathon he was involved in a famous ‘duel in the sun’ with Alberto Salazar, which he lost by a mere two seconds in 2:08:53, as both men broke the course record and the US record.
Among the talented athletes who will set off from Blackheath this year will be the current London Marathon champions, Wilson Kipsang and Edna Kiplagat, the men’s and women’s world record holders, Dennis Kimetto and Paula Radcliffe, plus David Weir, Britain’s six-times Paralympic champion who is going for a record seventh London Marathon wheelchair victory as one of nearly 100 competitors in the eight IPC Athletics Marathon World Championships races.
In all 20 London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic athletics medallists will be racing over the famous course from Blackheath to The Mall, including four London 2012 marathon champions.
The elites will be followed by thousands of club athletes, fun runners, charity fund raisers, celebrities, politicians and fancy dress costume wearers.
Dick Beardsley, Inge Simonsen and Joyce Smith will be appearing at a 35th anniversary press conference at the Tower Hotel on Wednesday 22 April. Details of this, and all the London Marathon’s Race Week press conferences, can be found in the Media Resources section of the London Marathon website: www.virginmoneylondonmarathon.com/en-gb/news-media/media-resources/
Here is a list of the official starters:
Dick Beardsley, Inge Simonsen and Joyce Smith, the inaugural London Marathon champions
09:00 IPC Athletics Marathon World Championships Wheelchair Races, Blue Start
09:05 Other IPC Athletics Marathon World Championships Races, Blue Start
09:20 Elite Women, Blue Start
10:10 Elite Men, Blue Start