The Greatest Marathon Runners of All Time: Eliud Kipchoge and Rosa Mota

Choosing the best ever marathon runners is complicated by the way the event has changed. In earlier times the most prestigious event by far was the Olympic Games but in recent years the big city marathons have become more important as they provide a valuable pay day in a career with relatively few races.
The tables below show some of the career statistics for some of the top runners with columns representing

OG – Championship titles in the Olympics
WC – World Championships (WC) or other championships indicated by the letters CG for Commonwealth Games, EC for European Championships or PG for Panamerican Games,
WR (years) – the number of World Records set and the number of years they held the records for, which is a guide to how good the records were
WL – the number of years they were world ranked number 1 in marathon either by Track and Field News from 1946 or in earlier years by time
Major – the number of wins in major city marathons
Other – other marathon wins.


Name OG WC WR (years) WL Major Other
Veikko Karvonen (Fin) 1EC 3 2 1
Gerard Cote (Can) 3 4 6
Jim Peters (GB) 4 (4) 1
Abebe Bikila (Eth) 2 2 (3) 3
Frank Shorter (USA) 1 1PAC 3 4 2
Waldemar Cierpinski (GDR) 2 2
Bill Rodgers (US) 3 10 12
Rob De Castella (Aus) 1 2CG 1(3) 1
Gelindo Bordin (It) 1 2EC 1 2
Abel Anton (Sp) 2 1EC 2 1
Gezahegne Abera (Eth) 1 1 2 4
Jaouad Gharib (Mar) 2
Haile Gebrselassie (Eth) 2(4) 2 6 3
Wilson Kipsang (Ken) 1 (1) 5
Abel Kirui (Ken) 2
Eliud Kipchoge (Ken) 1 1 4 6
Christa Vahlensieck (FRG) 2 (1) 2
Grete Waitz (Nor) 1 4 (2) 6 11 1
Joan Benoit Samuelson (US) 1 1 (2) 2 3 2
Ingrid Kristiansen (Nor) 2 (14) 1 8
Rosa Mota (Por) 1 1 3EC 3 8 1
Uta Pippig (Ger) 2 7 2
Paula Radcliffe (GB) 1 2 (16) 3 7
Irina Mikitenko (Ger) 2 4
Catherine Ndereba (Ken) 2 1 (1) 2 7
Tegla Lorupe (Ken) 2 (3) 3 3 1
Edna Kiplagat (Ken) 2 3

As can be seen from the tables for the men not many athletes really tick all the boxes. The championship winners haven’t often been the ones who set the fast times and the prolific winners of major city marathons don’t tend to win the major championships.

The athlete many now consider to be the best man ever over the distance is Eliud Kipchoge. He has won ten out of his eleven marathons and was second in the other. This is an unrivalled record of success over that many marathons but even though he has a raft of very fast times only just set a world best time.  This record means that he has cemented himself as my choice for the greatest ever.  Abebe Bikila was the first great African marathon runner and he changed the world map of distance running for ever with his two Olympic marathon golds.  He is second for me with a close call for third.  Frank Shorter is my choice.

The greatest women runners have tended to achieve more of the goals required but the problem is evaluating the achievements over different eras. Grete Waitz’s achievements in the early days of the event were fantastic but nowadays races are clearly more competitive than in those times and to win as many is very difficult. Rosa Mota is the best runner in championships but never broke the world record. Paula Radcliffe’s record time has stood for fifteen years and is the best run in the history of women’s marathon and she won a world title. These are my top three and choosing one is tricky.   I give greater weight to championship performances and so I go with Mota as number one.  Waitz’s achievements were so outstanding even allowing for the lesser strength of the event that I put her second with Radcliffe in third.

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World Sports Hall of Fame 1946: Tony Canzoneri, Tommy Hitchcock, Giuseppe Meazza and Eddie Shore

My choices for the World Sports Hall of Fame for 1946:

Tony Canzoneri (USA – Boxing) –  one of the finest boxers of his time who won world titles at three weights.  At featherweight in 1927, lightweight in 1930 and junior-lightweight in 1931.  He held at least one title from 1927  until 1937 winning twelve of his twenty-two world title fights.  He had an aggressive style which made him popular with fans and in his professional career won 141 and lost 24 fights.

Tommy Hitchcock  (USA – Polo)  one of the greatest polo players of all-time.  After an adventurous time in World War I he became the outstanding player of his era.  He only missed two international matches for the USA between 1920 and 1940 and of those he played only lost one.  He maintained the highest possible polo goal handicap for a player of ten for eighteen years.

Giuseppe Meazza (Italy – Football) – one of the greatest Italian footballers ever and the captain of the Italian team that won the World Cup in 1934 and 1938.  He was also their star player and as a forward for the team scored 33 goals in 53 appearance between 1930 and 1939.  This remained the goals record for Italy for more than thirty years.  He scored 229 goals in 440 league matches at club level,  most of which were for Inter Milan.

Eddie Shore (Canada – Ice Hockey) – one of the greatest defencemen in the history of hockey.  He was the outstanding defensive player of the 1930s and was chosen for the first team of the All-Stars seven times in that decade.  Widely regarded as one of the toughest players ever to play the game he was also a great skater and stick-handler.  He won the Hart Trophy as league MVP four times, the most ever by a defenseman.  Most of his playing career was with the Boston Bruins with whom he won two Stanley Cups.

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The History of Sport 1922: First Walker Cup Golf match and Women’s World Games. Johnny Weissmuller breaks the one minute barrier, Mary Lines and Gertrude Ederle set multiple world records.

Some of the main events that happened in sport in 1922


The American Professional Football Association renames itself as the National Football League

The first Women’s World Games is held in Paris at the Stade Pershing with six countries competing at an athletics meeting.

Britain’s Mary Lines sets world records for 100 yards and 440 yards at Paddington, and for 220 yards at the WAA championships at Waddon.   She sets an 880 yards world record at Crystal Palace.  She wins the long jump at the World Games and is part of the winning British team that wins the 4×100 yards and sets a world record.

Alice Cast (GB) sets a world record for 220 yards in a 300m race in Paris.

Phyllis Hall (GB) sets a world best for 880 yards at Bournbrook , Birmingham.

Sophie Elliott-Lynn sets a high jump world best at Torquay.

Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe horse race is won by Ksar (a second successive victory)

The forerunner of the RAC Rally is held for the first time.

The British Open squash championships is held for the first time, for women only, and is won by Joyce Cave.

Johnny Weissmuller swims the 100 metres freestyle in 58.6 seconds to create a world record and break the “minute barrier”

Water skiing invented in Lake City, Minnesota by Ralph Samuelson

Inaugural Australian Women’s Singles Championship is held
Margaret Molesworth (Australia) defeats Esna Boyd Robertson (Australia) 6–3 10–8

The Challenge Round at Wimbledon is abolished.

The Walker Cup golf match between amateur golfers from Great Britain and the USA is played for the first time.  (USA win).

The England hockey team defeats France 16-0 at Beckenham.  A record score by a British team.

The title “Rugby Football League” is adopted.

The first official world weightlifting championships are held in Tallinn, Estonia.

Alice Leigh wins her 23rd British Archery title aged 67.  This is 41 years after her first title.

The first gliding meet in Britain is held at Ilford, Sussex.  A flight duration prize of £6,000 is awarded.

The first commentary in Britain is broadcast with Arthur Burrows describing the fight between Ted “Kid” Lewis and Georges Carpentier at Olympia.

World titles are awarded for the first time in boxing at Light-welterweight (won by Pinky Mitchell) and Junior-featherweight (won by Jack “Kid” Wolfe).

The first ski slalom race is held at Murren, Switzerland and is won by J.A.Joannides.

The first England v New Zealand cricket test match is held at Wellington. England win.

W.H.Minter scores seven goals for St.Albans in an F.A.Cup tie but the team loses 8-7 to Dulwich Hamlet.

Gertrude Ederle (USA) sets seven swimming world records in the year.


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The History of Sport 1921: Another Home Run Record for Babe Ruth, The First Women’s World Games, First Pro Football Season, Boxing’s First Million Dollar Fight

The main events in sport in 1921

Rangers win the Scottish football league with a record 76 points.
The English League founds the Third Division. It is divided into North and South divisions.

Only thirteen people attend the football match between Stockport and Leicester at Old Trafford, the lowest ever attendance for a football league game.

An amateur golf match between the USA and Great Britain & Ireland is instituted.

The Ping Pong Association is revived and the English Championship is founded.

The first women’s athletics club in Britain, London Olympiades, is founded.

The Federation Sportive Feminine Internationale (the international women’s sports federation) is founded in Paris.  Six countries are members.

The first Women’s international sports competition, the Olympiad or Women’s World Games, is held in Monte Carlo. Athletes from France, Great Britain, Switzerland, Italy and Norway compete.

A world record of 11 4/5 seconds for 100 yards is set by Britain’s Mary Lines when competing for England v France in Paris.  At the same meeting the England women set a world record for the 4 x 110 yards relay of 51 4/5 seconds.

The first ladies Point-to-Point horse race is won by Lady Jean Douglas-Hamilton at a meeting at Motcombe, Dorset.

Australia’s rugby league team defeat Bramley 92-7 in a tour match at Leeds, scoring 24 tries.

Chicago Staleys (later the Chicago Bears) win the first American Professional Football Association title. The APFA will eventually become the National Football League.

Babe Ruth hits 59 home runs for the New York Yankees, establishing a new single-season record for the third consecutive year. He also makes a record 457 bases in the season.

The first flight duration gliding meeting is held at the Rhon meet.

Boxing’s first “million dollar gate” occurs when Jack Dempsey meets Georges Carpentier in a “hastily assembled outdoor arena built on a farm in Jersey City, New Jersey”. A crowd of more than 80,000 attends an event billed by its promoter Tex Rickard as the “Battle of the Century”. Dempsey wins by a fourth round knockout in a scheduled 12-round fight which is also special for its radio broadcast. It is the first-ever broadcast to a “mass audience” with ringside commentary relayed over the new radiophone

The first broadcast sports commentary was transmitted by KDKA Pittsburgh of the fight between Johnny Ray and Johnny Dundee. Dundee wins the first junior-lightweight world title.

In cricket England tour Australia and becomes the first team to lose every match in a five-match Test series. On their tour of England Charlie Macartney produced an Australian record score in England of 345 against Nottinghamshire. The innings was the fastest triple century in first-class cricket and the highest score made by a batsman in a single day of play. He reached 300 in 205 minutes and the innings took less than four hours.

The rugby union Five Nations Championship series is won by England who complete the Grand Slam.

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British Sports Hall of Fame 1946: Cliff Bastin, Jack Beresford, Jimmy Foster and Sydney Wooderson

My choices for the British Sports Hall of Fame for 1946 are:

Cliff Bastin (Football) – a brilliant left winger who was integral to the Arsenal team which won five English championships between 1931 and 1938. He also won two FA Cups with the first of those coming in 1930 aged 18. This made him the youngest player in a Wembley Cup Final, a record that stood for 34 years. He played 21 times for England from 1931 to 1938, scoring 12 goals. He played for Arsenal from 1929 to 1946, scoring 150 times in 350 appearances. 32 of these came in the 1932/33 season, a record total for a winger in the First Division. He was Arsenal’s record goal scorer for 58 years.

Jack Beresford (Rowing) – one of Britain’s greatest ever rowers.  He won three Olympic gold medals and two silvers between 1920 and 1936.  His five medals in consecutive Games was a feat unmatched by any rower for sixty years.  His first medals were at single sculls with silver in 1920 and gold in 1924.  He followed this with silver in eights in 1928 before winning golds in Coxless Fours in 1932 and Double Sculls in 1936.  At the Henley Regatta he won the Diamond Sculls four times with three of those coming in succession from 1924 to 1926.  He won three other titles at Henley between 1928 and 1939, when he was forty. He won the Wingfield sculls seven consecutive times from 1920 and went on to manage the British rowing team.

Jimmy Foster (Ice Hockey) – one of the outstanding goalkeepers of his era.  He was an amateur but was better than most of the professionals.  In Canada he achieved two successive shut-outs in the Allan Cup Finals of 1931 and 1932 and set a record of 417 minutes without conceding a goal.  His crowning achievement came at the 1936 Olympics when he conceded only three goals in seven matches as part of the winning British team that included many Canadian based players.  The only time Great Britain won the Olympic title.

Sydney Wooderson (Athletics) – one of the world’s outstanding middle distance runners on either side of World War II who was denied some of his best years by the War.  He won European Championships at 1500m in 1938 and 5000m in 1946, where he recorded the second fastest time ever.  He had set world record for the 800m/880 yards in 1938 and the mile in 1937 with a time of 4:06.4.  He missed out on running in the 1936 Olympics due to injury when he would have been one of the favourites for the title.  He also set a world best for 3/4 mile in 1939.


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The History of Sport 1920: 29 Nations Attend The Antwerp Olympics, Paul Radmilovic’s fourth gold as Britain win a hat-trick of water polo titles, Oscar Swahn takes gold at 72, Nedo Nadi wins five fencing golds. In American Football the NFL is Founded

Some of the notable events in sport in 1920:

The National Football League (NFL) is founded as the American Professional Football Association in Canton, Ohio.  The first NFL championship is won by the Akron Pros.

In baseball the Negro National League is formed.  Boston Red Sox transfers Babe Ruth to New York Yankees for $125,000 and a $350,000 loan. Ruth hits 54 home runs for the Yankees in 1920, surpassing the 29 he hit in the 1919 season.

The inaugural Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in horse-racing is won by Comrade.


The Olympic Games take place in Antwerp.

These Olympics were the first in which the Olympic Oath was voiced, the first in which doves were released to symbolize peace, and the first in which the Olympic Flag was flown.
The USA won 41 gold, 27 silver, and 27 bronze medals, the most won by any of the 29 nations attending.
There were 156 events in 29 disciplines, comprising 22 sports, were part of the Olympic program in 1920.

The Games also featured a week of winter sports, with figure skating appearing for the first time since the 1908 Olympics, and ice hockey making its Olympic debut.

Nedo Nadi won 5 gold medals in the fencing events (two individual golds).
At the age of 72, Sweden’s 100 metre running deer double-shot event champion Oscar Swahn, who had participated in the 1908 and 1912 Games, came in second in the team event to become the oldest Olympic medal winner ever.
Finland’s Paavo Nurmi won the 10,000 m and 8000 m cross country races, took another gold in team cross country, and a silver in the 5000 m run.

John Kelly (USA) wins golds at single and double sculls rowing.

Britain’s Henry Taylor wins his eighth medal at swimming over three Games.

Max Decugis (France) wins his fourth tennis gold since 1900.

Britain’s Albert Hill wins golds at 800m and 1500m. Britain also win golds at Steeplechase (Percy Hodge), 4x400m relay, in boxing for Ronald Rawson and Harry Mallin, hockey, polo (third successive gold), and Finn yachting.

Paul Radmilovic wins his fourth Olympic gold medal as part of the British water polo team which wins a third successive gold. This remains a record for a Briton for the rest of the century.

Hannes Kolehmainen (Finland) wins his fourth gold in distance running over two Games.
Hubert van Innis (Belgium) wins his sixth gold in archery.

Pat McDonald (USA) wins the weight throw gold aged 42 years and 23 days.

Tug-of-war is held at the Games for the last time.



The International Weightlifting Federation is founded.

Britain’s Ted Ray wins the US Open golf championship.

The Montreal Canadiens beat the Quebec Bulldogs by a NHL record score of 16-3.
Joe Malone scores seven goals in one game for Quebec v Toronto in the NHL.

Huddersfield win their fourth successive Yorkshire Cup in Rugby League.

The first gliding meeting is held on Wasserhuppe, organised by Osar Ursinus of Flugsport.

A greyhound racing stadium is opened by O.P.Smith at Emeryville, California.

In cricket an English team goes to Australia in November to commence the first Test series since the war  Percy Fender scores a century in thirty-five minutes for Surrey v Northants.

The first mention of cycle speedway, which takes place at Coventry

In football Billy Meredith plays for Wales v England aged 45 years and 229 days. He first played for his country in 1895, making this a record span in international football.


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World Sports Hall of Fame 1945: Lou Gehrig, George Nepia, Harold Vanderbilt and Helen Wills-Moody

As with the British version I have resumed my World Sports Hall of Fame in1945, following World War II when little sport took place. My first post-war inductees are :

Lou Gehrig (USA -Baseball) – one of the central players who helped the New York Yankees dominate baseball in the 1920s and 1930s. Widely regarded as the greatest first baseman in baseball history he established a record of 2130 consecutive games played between 1925 and 1939 when he had to stop due to serious illness. This record lasted for nearly sixty years. He was a great batter who won the Triple Crown in 1934 and led the American League in RBIs five times. This included 184 in 1931 which has stood as the record ever since. He scored 493 Home Runs in his career from 1923 to 1939 and 1990 RBIs and won six world series titles.

George Nepia (New Zealand – Rugby Union) – regarded as one of the greatest full-backs in history and the first superstar of New Zealand rugby. He made his name on the “Invincibles” tour of 1924/5 when as a 19 year-old he played in all 38 unbeaten games of the All Blacks tour to Australia, Europe and Canada. He played in Tests in 1929 against Australia and in all four Tests against The British Lions in 1930. In 1935 he played rugby league and won international honours at that sport before returning to Union in the war-time amnesty.

Harold Vanderbilt (USA-Sailing) – the only man ever to defend the America’s Cup three consecutive times in different boats while skippering and steering. He defended the Cup in 1930,1934 and 1937 losing only two races in those defences. These used J class boats which were very expensive and not used again. He was the greatest yachtsman of his era winning six “King’s Cups” and five Astor Cups at regattas between 1922 and 1938.  He helped devise new rules for international sailing and also invented the game of contract bridge.

Helen Wills (USA – Tennis) – the greatest woman player of her era and one of the most dominant players of all-time. She was unbeaten in singles matches from autumn 1926 to 1933 and didn’t drop a set from 1927 to the Wimbledon final of 1933. She won eight Wimbledon singles titles between 1927 and 1938 which was the record for over fifty years. She won the US Open a record equalling seven times between 1923 and 1931 and the French Open four times. She also won twelve Grand Slam doubles titles and the Olympic singles and doubles golds in 1924.

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