How Stockholm Marathon began

An article about the New York City Marathon in the American magazine Sports Illustrated inspired Anders Olsson to create Stockholm Marathon.
Olsson, a former sport journalist and dedicated representative of Hässelby Athletics club, recalls the founding year of the marathon that takes place in the Swedish capital.

– On my long journey home on the subway, one gloomy November day in 1978, I was dazzled by an article in Sports Illustrated. It was about the New York City Marathon, 12,000 runners pounding the streets of the Big Apple. I was really inspired. What a contrast to the lukewarm and isolated Swedish running scene! This was a race to attend, indeed.
But I thought on. Why should you have to go to New York to experience a big event, a marathon, cheered on by hundreds of thousands? Couldn’t we replicate the success story in Stockholm??
Early next morning I persuaded two other athletics enthusiasts that this was an achievable idea.

A few small races

In 1978 marathon running was something out of the ordinary. A few races in Sweden attracted a small number of eccentrics. Generally they ran on dusty country roads with no spectators apart from some loyal wives and a few amused bystanders.
Planning the course was the first thing to do. It needed to be not too difficult and attract a lot of spectators, but without causing problems for the traffic and public transport. We spent the winter examining all possible routes. All the permits were granted by February. The first race day was to be Saturday, 4 August. We decided on a Saturday as the participants needed a rest day before they returned to work. A June date would have been preferable, but we required six months for preparation.

We needed a success

The key to success was to reach out to the runners. We couldn’t afford to have a minor debut event. There was no way the police would agree to close down Stockholm City a second time if the first attempt did not turn out to be a big hit.
Luckily there was great interest from the start. One of Sweden’s leading dailies, Aftonbladet, became a sponsor, and the marathon attracted even more interest. Everything grew out of proportion and took its share of time, but we managed to solve all the problems that arose.

A unique event

In the end we received 2 155 entries. No one could have imagined the impact Stockholm Marathon had on the city. The crowds took to the streets in large numbers. The lead vehicle could barely make its way through the tightly packed spectators.
The inaugural winners were Jukka Toivola, Finland, and Heide Brenner of West Germany. The 51 female runners who finished received extensive media exposure. 1799 runners finished the race and they were all proud to have participated in a unique event. We realised that this race would continue.