John Kelley and the marathon -- you weren't seeing double

One reason the name John Kelley has become virtually synonymous with the Boston Marathon over the years is that not one, but two, famous former winners happen to bear that appellation.

The elder one, John A. (Johnny) Kelley, popularly known as the Grand Old Man of the marathon, is still going strong at the age of 73. On Monday, in fact, he will accomplish the truly incredible feat of competing in the race for the 50th time.

Johnny Kelley (no relation to the author of the article at the top of this page) dominated the US distance running scene through much of the 1930s and '40 s. He won the Boston Marathon twice (1935 and 1945), finished second on seven other occasions, and was in the top 10 an amazing 19 times. He was also a member of three US Olympic teams.

Then in the mid-1950s along came a namesake, John J. Kelley, to dominate the race himself -- at least among the American entrants -- for the next decade or so. And even though both have long since dropped from the ranks of top contenders, their presence is still one of the big spectator attractions and a major part of the day's overall charm.

The elder Kelley, in particular, is an institution in this regard. True aficionados of the marathon feel their day is not complete until the legendary resident of East Dennis, Mass., makes his appearance. Thus on Monday, as always in the past, thousands all along the route will wait long after the leaders have passed for this final big moment of the race.

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