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John Joseph "Johnny" Hayes (April 10, 1886 – August 25, 1965) was an American athlete, a member of the Irish American Athletic Club, and winner of the marathon race at the 1908 Summer Olympics. Hayes' Olympic victory contributed to the early growth of long-distance running and marathoning in the United States.[3][4] He was also the first man to win a marathon at the now official standard distance of 26 miles 385 yards when Olympic officials lengthened the distance to put the finish line in front of the Royal Box (the 1896 and 1904 Olympic marathons had been less than 25 miles long).

Johnny Hayes
Johnny Hayes 1908.jpg
Johnny Hayes in 1908
Personal information
BornApril 10, 1886
New York City, United States
DiedAugust 25, 1965 (aged 79)
Englewood, New Jersey, United States
Height1.62 m (5 ft 4 in)
Weight55 kg (121 lb)
ClubI-AAC, Queens
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)Marathon – 2:26:04 (1908) (at 24 mile distance)[1][2]
Johnny Hayes, wearing the Winged Fist of the Irish American Athletic Club, posing for a studio portrait shortly after his 1908 Olympic Marathon victory.
Statue of Hayes and two other Olympic gold medalists (Matt McGrath and Bob Tisdall) in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, Ireland


Born in New York City to a family of Irish emigrants (from Nenagh in Co. Tipperary), Johnny Hayes is probably best known for winning the controversial marathon race at the London Olympics. Hayes is one of only three male American athletes to win the Olympic Marathon, (the other two being Thomas Hicks in 1904 and Frank Shorter in 1972).

In 1905 he had joined Bloomingdale Brothers as an assistant to the manager of the sporting goods department. At night he trained on a cinder track on the roof of the Bloomingdales building in New York. He was promoted to manager of the department after returning from his Olympic victory.[5]

Hayes started his athletics career with a fifth-place finish at the 1906 Boston Marathon, running for the St. Bartholemew Athletic Club in a time of 2:55:38.[6] He improved on that the following year by finishing third in Boston with a time of 2:30:38 and winning the inaugural Yonkers Marathon.[1][7] In 1908 he finished second, 21 seconds behind Thomas Morrissey in the Boston Marathon with a time of 2:26:04 and thus qualified for the Olympic Games held in London that same year.[8]

The British Olympic Association wanted to start the race in front of Windsor Castle and finish in front of the royal reviewing stand at the White City Stadium. As a result, the distance was 42 km and 195 m. It took until 1921 for the IAAF to codify that distance as the official length of the marathon. Prior to this, races were usually about 25 miles (40 km).

1908 Olympic victoryEdit

At the race itself, Dorando Pietri from Italy was the first to enter the stadium. But Pietri took a wrong turn, collapsed, was helped up on his feet by doctors, wobbled and fell three more times before being aided (illegally) towards the finish line by race officials. All of the Olympic officials were British (the Pietri incident and other controversial calls in the 1908 Olympics prompted the International Olympic Committee to start appointing judges from a wide variety of countries instead of only the host country).

Hayes running in the White Stadium near the finish line

Pietri was disqualified after the US officials filed a protest. Despite the official result, Pietri achieved much more fame than Hayes, when Queen Alexandra awarded him a special silver cup.[1]

After the dramatic Olympic battle between Pietri and Hayes, public interest was such that a match race was organized by professional promoters in November, 1908 at Madison Square Garden. The race was won by Pietri by 75 yards. A second match race was held on March 15, 1909 and again Pietri won. Both Pietri and Hayes turned professional after the Olympics, and achieved great fame.[1]

Hayes was a trainer for the US 1912 Olympic team. He later taught physical education and was a food broker. Johnny Hayes died in Englewood, New Jersey.[1]

The Shore Athletic Club of New Jersey (Shore AC) holds the Johnny Hayes collection as lifetime trustees. Included in the collection are numerous trophies as well as the 1908 Olympic gold medal for the marathon. This represents the first Olympic gold medal to be won at the modern marathon distance of 26 miles, 385 yards.

Johnny Hayes was a guest on the television show "I've Got A Secret" as one of five former Olympic champions which aired October 13, 1954. [9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Johnny Hayes.
  2. ^ John Hayes.
  3. ^ "Track and Field Athletics". The World 1910 Almanac and Encyclopedia. New York: Press Publishing Company. 1909. pp. 384–385.
  4. ^ Whorton, James C. (1992). ""Athlete's Heart": The Medical Debate over Athleticism, 1870–1920". In Berryman, Jack W.; Park, Robert J. (eds.). Sport and Exercise Science: Essays in the History of Sports Medicine. University of Illinois Press. p. 127. ISBN 9780252062421.
  5. ^ New York Times: 25 July 1908.
  6. ^ 1910 Mecca Cigarettes Champion Athlete and Prize Fighter Series trading card.
  7. ^ Cooper, Pamela (1999). "The New York City Marathon Culture". The American Marathon. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 9780815605737.
  8. ^ 2008 Boston Marathon Media Guide.
  9. ^

External linksEdit

Preceded by
record established
Men's Marathon World Record Holder
July 24, 1908 – January 1, 1909
Succeeded by
  Robert Fowler