If you’re looking for a race with bags of history, look no further than Košice Peace Marathon which takes place on 4 October; the oldest 26.2 mile race in Europe.
It was in the summer of 1924 that Vojtech Braun Bukovský, Košice sports enthusiast, went to see the Olympic Games in Paris. The enthusiasm he returned home with was channelled into his decision to organise a marathon, as it was this particular discipline which thrilled him the most in the French capital. And so it happened that just a few weeks later, on 28 October, the day of the 6th anniversary of the establishment of Czechoslovakia, eight brave pioneers lined up for the start below the ruins of Turňa Castle. Setting off in the direction of Košice, they embarked on an unknown adventure.
The Marathon quickly made itself at home in Eastern Slovakia, and started getting a response from the rest of the world as well. 1931 was a particularly memorable year as 20-year-old Argentinian new boy Juan Carlos Zabala shocked everyone with his course record of 2.33.19 – 12 months later he took victory at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Not even the torments of war could stop the Kosice Marathon, its continuity preserved. Early snowfall in 1946 was a premonition that the era of the northerners was beginning, as in the following ten years runners from Norway, Sweden and Finland won eight editions of the race; Swede Thomas Nilsson also set a new course record of 2.22.06 in 1956.
In 1960 Košice acquired its own artistic symbol; a 3.5-metre high bronze statue of a marathon runner, the plinth allowing everyone to admire the names of the winners. Just a year later the name of one of the greatest was added there as Abebe Bikila, Olympic champion in Rome and later in Tokyo, took victory. The population of the city at that time was no more than 80,000, but nearly 30,000 people were crammed into the stadium to see the finish, and thousands more lining the course. Bikila wasn’t the only great to travel to Kosice though, as American Leonard Edelen won in 1963, and brilliant runners from Great Britain and the Commonwealth took turns lining up at the start, such as Bill Adcocks, John Farrington, Derek Clayton, and Ron Hill.
Today the Košice Marathon is a colourful festival of sport and fun, attracting roughly 10,000 participants from all over the world. Taking in the extensive historical centre of this city, the first in Europe to acquire its own coat of arms from King Louis the Great in 1369, runners are able to admire the Gothic St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral from the 14th century and many other architectural gems in this metropolis. It was also thanks to this heritage and its programme for creative transformation that Košice gained the title of European Capital of Culture for the year 2013.
This Marathon is attractive not only due to its tradition and precise organisation, and the olden-day charm of the city, but also for the fast course it offers. Without change since the 1997 World Championships, the course is flat and fast and witnesses an unprecedented number of personal bests year on year. It's easy to see why, with course records of 2.07.01 and 2.27.47.
We asked the race’s Managing Director Branislav Koniar for his view on the race and its new 5-star Quality Road Race status on the European Athletics Running for All platform.
“We are very pleased that the final evaluation was so clear for Košice Peace Marathon, as our ambition is to be one of the leading marathons in Europe when considering technical, safety and organisational preparation. Moreover, we reach out to several ‘neighbouring’ marathons, whose leaders are learning from us, and our race also has good flight connections and high quality accommodation.
“The European Athletics Running for All standards are a way of classifying races, something we are all aware of in other aspects of life, so why not in running? Customers today are searching for product and service evaluations before they make the final decision, and it’s great that European Athletics is the authority, meaning the ratings have clear value.
“If you ask the runners what they like most about the race, their answers are often the same; the unusual atmosphere, streets full of runners and spectators, and positive energy, which is mutually beneficial to runners and spectators alike.”
This image reflects 90 years of marathon phenomenon in the city, something of which the locals are rightly proud.