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A Year of World-Record-Breaking Times or Human Error?

Monday, April 20, 1953

1. Keizo YamadaJapan 2:18:51
2. Victor KarvonenFinland 2:19:09
3. Karl LeanderssonSweden 2:19:36
4. K. NishidaJapan 2:21:35
5. J.J. KelleyGroton, CT 2:28:19

This was the year after the 1952 Olympics and the foreign runners came back to Boston. The American runners, who were desperate to reclaim their dominance, focussed their efforts on scientific training.

But, this year, the training didn't seem to help. Japan's Keizo Yamada sprung ahead of the pack at Heartbreak Hill, racing to a course record. In fact, the top three finishers broke the standing world record.

However, the checkpoint times were baffling. Yamada's times were average for the first few checkpoints. But, in the last few checkpoints, Yamada and had the world record beaten by 7 minutes, a truly remarkable feat. Whether the recorded times were false or real would be uncovered later.

From the Boston Globe, Sunday, April 21, 1953


The race:

One hundred and eight pounds of Japanese clerk entitled Keizo Yamada came tumbling down the Boston A. A. Marathon course like a wind-blown leaf yesterday in the fantastic time of 2 hours, 18 minutes, 51 seconds.

Nearly seven minutes under the Boston record, the petite perambulator from Akita, his placid doll's face never once betraying s superhuman effort, had to race history's fastest marathon, anywhere on the face of the Globe, to win. A 25-knot tail wind literally hurled him home.

The smallest man in the field of 157 runners who braved the 43-degree day, Yamada is a 5 ft. 2 in. package of perpetual motion. He ran like a toy that was wound up in Hopkinton at 12 noon and set down on the starting line. He was not completely unwound 26 miles later, either.

Keizo made his winning move at the most astonishing and least plausible moment in the most dramatic of the 57 Marathons which have been waged on the winding black macadam of Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, and the Newtons.

Midway up the soul-testing slope of ``Heartbreak Hill,'' the topographical bludgeon which separates the men from the boys at 20 miles, this feathery little fellow brashly hurled his challenge.

He spurted. The leggy Swede, who was on his right, and Karvonen, on the other side of the Swede, could not answer him.

Yamada galloped to the crest of the hill 10 yards ahead, fled like a truant schoolboy down the back slope to Lake st., increasing his margin to 25 strides over the tandem of Scandinavians.

Keizo sped as if he was late for work at his $30 per month clerk's job at Dohwa Mining Company. He made the fastest flight in 57 years from Lake st. to the end and needed every precious inch of the 150 yards his sudden burst of speed provided him.

He said later, ``I knew I must run with all I had. The presence of the two great runners from Finland and Sweden inspired me. It would be impossible to let down and hope to defeat men such as they.''

Karvonen had been fifth to Keizo's 26th in the Olympic race at Helsinki last July. The Finnish champion yesterday ran like a pony to the bitter end. He did not concede the race to his elusive 24-year-old quarry, Karvonen said, until he came churning furiously over the rise into Kenmore sq. Then he recognized that for all his grim racing the back jersey and neat white panties of the little Japanese were being still resolutely borne and that the intervening distance, an estimated 155 yards, was too great in the last mile.

There was much disbelief on the streets of the town yesterday that a Marathon could be raced in world-record time by three men in one afternoon, or that the fourth finisher could cover the distance four minutes faster than the previous Boston record.

Here is why the times in this incredible foot race were possible over an authentic 26 miles, 385 yards course measured by engineers:

1. Leandersson. This 35-year-old mountain guide from Sweden was out to break the record and from the very start he stirred up a pace unequalled by even the remarkable Emil Zatopek in the record Olympic race last summer.

2. Conditions never have been more propitious for a super Marathon effort. The day was cold (and the record had fallen on brittle afternoons in 1926, 1942 and 1947). The road was bone dry, despite the Sunday night drench ... and there was a booming baby hurricane pressing against the backs and buttocks of the men who fought yesterday's memorable Marathon. They were being borne along in the arms of it.

3. There had never been a faster field in one parcel on this traditional B.A.A. day. Six men in the race had beaten 21/2 hours for Marathons all over the world. When three of them suddenly were hurled at each other following a breathless record pace for 16 miles, something had to give. And it wasn't Yamada, it wasn't Karvonen, it wasn't Leandersson. It was the stop watch.

I find the feat entirely credible, for this is not a man-sized Marathon assignment. The course actually drops 230 feet to sea level en route, a mail-order pushover for a day like this and a field that vibrated with speed and savvy and aggressiveness.

The great pity is, a tremendous effort by John J. Kelley, 23-year-old, 126-pound English major from Boston University's junior class, was completely buried under the wreckage.