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Documentary Chronicles the History of Boston Marathon

  • Penelope Poulou

The newly applied Boston Marathon finish line rests on Boylston St., April 13, 2017, in Boston. The finish line is made from an adhesive decal that covers a painted version that is left in place throughout the year. The 121st Boston Marathon is to be run

On April 15, 2013, the Boston Marathon bombing shook the world. Two bombs that exploded 12 seconds apart near the finish line of the world famous race killed three people and injured an estimated 264 others who were treated at 27 hospitals. At least 14 people required amputations.

Movies such as the feature film Patriots Day have offered a dramatized account of those events. But Jon Dunham’s documentary Boston, narrated by Boston native Matt Damon, looks beyond the bombings, weaving an uplifting narrative of the race from its inception in 1897 to 2014, the year after the attacks.

Watch: Boston Documentary Chronicles the History of Boston Marathon

A lot of grieving

By the size of the race, the sheer enthusiasm of the 36,000 racers and the community spirit during the 2014 Boston Marathon, no one would have guessed that the year before, the event, its participants and the city itself had been devastated by a terrorist attack.

The bombings weighed heavily on filmmaker Jon Dunham, a marathon runner who had planned, for years before the attacks, to make a documentary about the history of the race.

“There were a number of feelings — there was certainly a lot of grieving for what had happened. I walked up and down Boylston Street every day as soon as I arrived here in Boston in January of 2014, and just thought about it every day,” the filmmaker said.

A history of the race

His documentary Boston does not focus on the pain and fear in 2013. Instead, it chronicles the Boston Marathon as an event that has fostered charity, unity and strength since its inception in 1897.

Dunham’s film follows the growth of the event through the decades. The race has become more selective, the runners faster. They come from all over the world to compete. One of them is Kenyan runner Wilson Chebet.

“Long time ago, when I was a child, I used to run to school. 3.7 kilometers. Lunchtime you come back, you go to school after lunch, and then in the evening you come home,” Chebet said.

War connection

The documentary shows how the race also has grown into a major fundraising event.

It started with Greek Olympic athlete Stylianos Kyriakides, who won the Boston Marathon in 1946 and used his notoriety as a Boston Marathon champion to raise funds and put together supplies that aided Greece after WWI, Dunham said.

He says the history of the marathon has been intrinsically connected with war.

“It is interesting to consider the marathon in the context of war, even if you want to go back to the whole idea of the marathon. … The Battle of Marathon in Greece and the Athenians having triumphed over the invading Persians and then the messenger being sent from Marathon to Athens to share new good news, that they had been victorious in this battle. That of course being the idea for creating a Marathon race came from,” Dunham said.

Ready for 2017

With just a few days before this year’s race, Boston is getting ready. T.K. Skenderian, director of communications at the Boston Athletic Association, is in the middle of the preparations.

“In the year that followed (the Boston Marathon bombing), and in the years that have followed, the sense of solidarity and community pride that has emerged from not just those injured but people locally, people from around the world, has been overwhelming. I mean that sense of civic pride, city pride, and pride in the sport of running has been enormous. Yeah, we got knocked down but we got back up in a big way.”

Two days before the 121st running of the Boston Marathon, Jon Dunham’s documentary is premiering in its namesake city.

“There are so many things we cannot control in life, but getting out and running, setting a goal like running a marathon, is something that can be done, and it really does change lives, and it is something very positive,” the Boston filmmaker said.

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