Thursday, October 07, 2004

Johnny Kelley, 1907-2004 

Marathoner extraordinaire Johnny Kelley passed away last night at the nursing home in which he had taken residence yesterday. Kelley took on the Boston marathon 61 times (a record), finished 58 of those (a record) , was in the top 10 finishers 18 times, came in second 7 times (a record), and won twice, in 1935 and 1945. Between 1933 and 1992 he missed only one race, when he was recovering from a hernia operation.

He was a member of the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame and is the double subject of a statue for the Boston Marathon. Kelley is shown as both a young man and in his later years, with both versions in mid-run and holding hands aloft in victory.

Who can forget his final finish in 1992 at the age of 84, when they held up a special finishing ribbon for him to break as he crossed the line and nearly knocked over his poor wife who was waiting for him there?

Kelley was also involved in the event leading to the naming of "Heartbreak Hill," the final of the hills in Newton. Apparently in 1936 he passed the leader, Ellison Brown, and tapped him on the shoulder. When Brown passed Kelley on that last hill, he returned the favor and went on to win the race. A reporter commented on the exchange, and wrote that the return tap had the effect of "breaking Kelley's heart."

The heart of Boston breaks today.

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Posted by Beth Henderson at 9:30 AM