The Kosice Peace Marathon celebrates its 90th birthday on Sunday (5th October). Here are ten reasons why the race has a special place in track and field history.

1. Europe’s oldest

Inspired by watching the Paris 1924 Olympic marathon, Vojtech Bukovsky organised the inaugural race in Kosice later that year. The maiden race attracted just eight runners as Karol Halla of Czechoslovakia won in 3:01:35, but the race quickly developed in stature and prestige and by the 1930s it was regarded as one of the world’s top two marathons alongside Boston. It became Europe’s oldest marathon in 1996 after London’s Polytechnic Marathon was run for the last time.

2. Peace pioneers

Countries from Rwanda to South Korea organise their own Peace Marathons but the original is the Kosice edition, in what is now an independent Slovakia. In 1945 the event became known as the Marathon of Freedom and in 1952 it reverted to its current title of the Kosice Peace Marathon. Over the last century Kosice has been part of Hungary, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.

Michala Lukacova, the project manager of the marathon’s event management company, says that the marathon adopted the title because  “freedom and peace are two words that describe the desire of society following the Second World War.”

3. Hall of Famers

Many of the great marathon champions have competed and performed with distinction in Kosice. Juan Carlos Zabala of Argentina geared up for his Olympic marathon triumph at Los Angeles 1932 by taking the 1931 race by a victory margin of more than 13-and-a-half minutes. His course record of 2:33:19 stood for 19 years. 

Kosice Peace Marathon ()

Abeba Bikila won the 1961 marathon by more than three and a half minutes

Ethiopian marathon great Abeba Bikila was victorious in the 1961 edition – winning the race by more than three-and-a-half minutes in 2:20:12. The previous year the bare-footed Ethiopian had triumphed to win at the Rome Olympics and at the 1964 Tokyo Games (this time with shoes), and became the first man in history to mount a successful Olympic marathon defence. 

4. Sunday is funday

The Kosice Marathon boasts more than just the 26.2-mile marathon on Sunday: it organises ten separate races including 20km races for hand-bikers, inline skaters and wheelchair races, a company run and a race for students.

“We strongly believe that the Sunday has a magical atmosphere, therefore we don’t want to split disciplines across two days,” says Lukacova. “As a result, even the youngest children running their 4.2km mini-marathon, receive the full support and attention of the crowded streets.”

5. Man of bronze

The statue of the runner known as the 'Victory Herald' was built by award-winning sculptor Arpad Racko in 1960 and has since become the symbol of the historic race. Every winner of the Kosice Peace Marathon is inscribed on to the statue, and the marathon flame is set alight from this site the night before the race.

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Each year the Victory Herald's flame is lit the night before the race

6. Wins don't come easy

A further measure of the quality and class of the race is that many great marathoners have attempted to win the Kosice Peace Marathon, and failed to have their name carved onto the bronze statue. Waldemar Cierpinski won back-to-back Olympic marathon titles in 1976 and 1980, but despite several attempts and notable third place finishes in 1974 and 1977, the East German never triumphed in Kosice. 

The 1969 European and 1970 Commonwealth marathon champion Ron Hill (the man who will celebrate 50 years of running at least one mile ever day of his life in December) led by a huge margin at halfway in the 1974 race, but the Briton badly misjudged the bitingly cold headwinds on the second half of the race, and faded to 28th. 

7. More than just running

Since the early days of race, when gypsy bands used to play for both the spectators and competitors, the Kosice Peace Marathon has been far more than just a race. For the 2014 edition, there will be a music marathon along the course with eight different stages and genres. Fifty exhibitors will be at the EXPO, and the pasta party will feed about 10,000 participants (2000 for the full marathon).

Kosice Peace Marathon ()

Come one, come all. Even American football.

8. Global appeal

Following the inaugural running of the event, Bukovsky vowed to invite at least one overseas runner to the race. Since then, the event has grown into a marathon of genuine global stature with winners of the men’s race hailing from 23 nations across all continents. This year’s race has attracted runners from 42 different nations.

9. City clickers

Happy snappers will be keen on entering the ‘Shoot the Marathon’ contest. The winners and runners up of the best picture comp will have their effort published on the City Light Gallery app. 

“Every year hundreds of people send their pictures, some of them are really great,” says Lukacova. “We do use these pictures sometimes for communication and official purposes as well. For example, we had a winning picture used for bank credit cards one year.”

10. Local heroes

Without the good people of Kosice, this iconic marathon would not exist. On the first Saturday every October, the Slovakian city and its 240,000 residents take this annual event to their hearts,

“The people of Kosice are used to going out on to the streets and cheering on the runners, so it became a tradition through generations,“ says Lukacova. “Everyone in the city is very proud of the marathon and we sacrifice a lot to keep it strong and visible to the world. We all know the marathon is something that opens us to the world. It is our trademark.”

Photography: Kosice Marathon Club (Archive)