Johnny Kelley

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Johnny Kelley
Personal information
Full nameJohn Adelbert Kelley
Born(1907-09-06)September 6, 1907
Medford, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedOctober 6, 2004(2004-10-06) (aged 97)
South Yarmouth, Massachusetts, U.S.

John Adelbert Kelley (September 6, 1907 – October 6, 2004) was an American long-distance runner who twice represented his native country at the Summer Olympics, in 1936 and 1948.


Personal life

Born in West Medford, Massachusetts as one of ten children, Kelley ran track and cross-country at Arlington High School in Massachusetts. He did not finish his first Boston Marathon in 1928, but eventually competed in a record 61 Boston Marathons.

A legend of the marathon, Kelley won the 1935 and 1945 runnings of the Boston Marathon. He finished in second place at Boston a record seven times. Between 1934 and 1950, he finished in the top five 15 times at Boston, consistently running in the 2:30s. He ran his last full marathon at Boston in 1992 at the age of 84, his 61st start and 58th finish there. For two more years he ran the last seven miles. Kelley also ran the Yonkers Marathon 29 times.

A member of the U.S. Olympic Team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he finished 18th in the marathon.

Kelley ran his 50th Boston Marathon in 1981; the event was also his 108th career marathon. [1]

Kelley was named "Runner of the Century" by Runner's World magazine in 2000. According to his New York Times obituary, [2] he enjoyed painting and worked in natural landscapes, producing about 20 paintings a year. One commissioned work is "The Boston Dream", a Primitive School painting showing the marathon course, with Hopkinton and Boston rising from the distance, as two winter runners—a woman and a man—train for their "Boston Dream". [3]

John A. Kelley should not be confused with 1957 Boston Marathon winner John J. Kelley, who bears no relation. In an effort to distinguish them, the two champions came to be known as "Kelley the Elder" and "Kelley the Younger", respectively. [2]

"For me, the race these days is to try to beat the girls to the finish and to wave to all my old friends along the course."

Kelley at age 65
Marathon Man tombstone, East Dennis, Massachusetts, 2010 Johnny Kelly tombstone.jpg
Marathon Man tombstone, East Dennis, Massachusetts, 2010

At age 70 he was still running 50 miles a week and around 15 races a year.

"I'm afraid to stop running. I feel too good. I want to stay alive."

Kelley at age 70 [2]

Heartbreak Hill

Heartbreak Hill is a portion of the Boston Marathon which ascends over 0.4 miles (600 m) between the 20- and 21-mile (32- and 34-km) marks, near Boston College. It is the last of four "Newton hills", which begin at the 16-mile (26 km) mark. In 1936, Kelley overtook Ellison "Tarzan" Brown, giving him a consolatory pat on the shoulder as he passed. This gesture renewed the competitive drive in Brown, who rallied, pulled ahead of Kelley, and went on to win—thereby, it was said, breaking Kelley's heart. [4] [5] [6]

In 1993, a statue of Kelley to commemorate him was erected near the City Hall of Newton, Massachusetts, on the Boston Marathon course, one hill and about one mile prior to the foot of Heartbreak Hill. [4] The Boston Globe erroneously refers to the statue's location as the foot of Heartbreak Hill. The statue's site, at Commonwealth Avenue and Walnut Street, [7] near Newton City Hall, is at mile 19.2 on the course, while the foot of Heartbreak Hill is at or near 20.4 miles. [8]


He is buried in Quivet Neck Cemetery, East Dennis, Massachusetts.

See also


  1. "Seko Clocks A Boston Record". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. AP. April 21, 1981. p. 19. Retrieved January 13, 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 New York Times obituary, October 8, 2004 Retrieved 2008-03-19
  3. Kelley's Famous Inspirational Painting: "The Boston Dream"
  4. 1 2 Michael Vega (October 7, 2004). "At Heartbreak Hill, a salute to a marathoner for the ages". Retrieved April 14, 2011.
  5. "Recalling The Most Memorable Boston Moments". Competitor Group, Inc. April 13, 2011. Retrieved April 14, 2011.
  6. Ward, Michael (2006-06-05). Ellison "Tarzan" Brown: The Narragansett Indian Who Twice Won the Boston Marathon . McFarland & Company. ISBN   0-7864-2416-8.
  7. Archived 2008-12-03 at the Wayback Machine
  8. Boston Athletic Association "Welcome" booklet, April 18, 2005, p. 20

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