John J. ("J.J.", "little Mac") McDermott (born October 16, 1874) was an Irish-American athlete, born in Manhattan, New York City to James McDermott and Lizzie Grady. He won the first marathon run in the United States in 1896, as well as the inaugural Boston Marathon, then known as the B.A.A. Road Race, in 1897. He was a lithographer by trade.
McDermott lost his mother at the age of eleven. He was unusually frail and light as a youth. At the start of the first Boston Marathon he weighed in at 124 pounds (56 kg) on a 5-foot-6-inch (168 cm) frame, slight even by marathoner standards.
He reportedly died either from consumption (tuberculosis) or from an inherited pulmonary disease sometime before 1906. One source states that he had tuberculosis when he won the Boston Marathon in 1897. The New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, Massachusetts has an ongoing search to learn of the burial location of John McDermott. His sister Julia died of tuberculosis in 1905.
Little is known of McDermott's life outside of his running accomplishments.
First American Marathon
The first marathon race to be held in the United States took place on September 19, 1896, five months after the first Olympic Marathon, as part of the fall meeting of the Knickerbocker Athletic Club of New York City. While regular track and field events were taking place at the Columbia Oval (located in an area that was then part of Williamsbridge but is now called Norwood, in the Bronx borough), twenty-eight athletes, almost all from the New York City area, had earlier traveled by train to Stamford, Connecticut for the marathon race. The course began at the Stamford Armory, and proceeded through Riverside, Cos Cob, Greenwich, Port Chester, Rye, Harrison, Mamaroneck, Larchmont, New Rochelle, East Chester, Woodlawn, and William's Bridge, finishing with two laps on the Columbia Oval. While the course was presented as 25 miles (40.2 km) long, a distance similar to that of the Olympic Marathon, recently statistician Hugh Farley has undertaken a best-guess reconstruction of the route which measures only 23.6 miles (38.0 km).
The roads for the first eight miles (13 km) were in terrible condition, covered in mud and slush from heavy precipitation that morning. McDermott, representing the Pastime Athletic Club of New York City, took the lead at New Rochelle, about seven miles (11 km) from the finish, and held that lead, completing the race in the time of 3:25:55.6, two and a half minutes ahead of the second-place athlete, cross-country runner Hamilton Gray. The winning time was twenty-seven minutes slower than the Olympic Marathon time posted by Spiridon Louis five months previously, which was attributed to the difficult conditions under which the race was run. Nineteen athletes completed the race in total.
First Boston Marathon
McDermott ran the first Boston Marathon on April 19, 1897 with eighteen starters, six from New York. He would lose ten pounds (5 kg) over the course of the race.
The initial lead was taken by Hamilton Gray, second in the New York race, and Dick Grant, a Harvard track athlete from St. Mary's, Ontario, Canada. McDermott was running thirty yards (27 m) behind the leaders at South Framingham, about four miles (6 km) in, and 400 yards (370 m) behind by the eight-mile (13 km) mark at Natick. But he took the lead at the downhill into Newton Lower Falls, about twelve miles (19 km) in. Grant attempted to stay with him, but had to give up when the uphill out of Newton Lower Falls was reached. McDermott continued to extend his lead through the Newton Hills, beginning to combine walking and running at about the twenty-mile (32 km) mark at Evergreen Cemetery. After a rubdown from his handler, he proceeded down Beacon Street and Commonwealth Avenue. At Massachusetts Avenue he ran into a funeral procession, stalling two electric cars. He finished with a lap of the Irvington Oval, part of a track and field meet conducted by the Boston Athletic Association. His time was 2:55:10, three minutes and forty seconds faster than Spiridon Louis’ time at the Olympic Games, so it was immediately claimed as a world record. However, there was no standard marathon distance at the time, and no organization to ratify world records. Both the Olympic and Boston courses were claimed to be about 25 miles (40 km), shorter than the now standard marathon distance of 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km), and neither mark is considered to have been a world record or world best by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which is now responsible for ratifying world records in athletics.
McDermott had finished the marathon with bloody and blistered feet, his skin peeling off. He stated that this would likely be his last long race. But he returned the next year to defend his title. He was the race favorite. Hamilton Gray and Dick Grant were back as well. However, the race was won by Ronald McDonald, a 22-year-old from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada who was a student at Boston College, in a course record time of 2:42:00, over thirteen minutes faster than McDermott's time from the previous year. McDermott also beat his previous time, finishing in 2:54:17, but finished only fourth.
- "New York, New York City Births, 1846-1909," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:27BP-KG7 : 20 March 2015), Johnny McDermott, 16 Oct 1874; citing Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, reference cn 145570 New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,322,082.
- Johnson, Richard A.; Johnson, Robert Hamilton (2009). "The 1890s to 1930". The Boston Marathon. Arcadia Publishing. p. 11. ISBN 9780738563503. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
- Boston Athletic Association (2011). "Boston Marathon History: 1897-1900". www.baa.org. Boston: Boston Athletic Association. Archived from the original on April 10, 2013. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
- Derderian, Tom (1994). Boston Marathon: The History of the World's Premier Running Event. Champaign IL: Human Kinetics. pp. 4. ISBN 0-87322-491-4.
- "New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2WJP-V2H : 20 March 2015), Elizabeth Mcdermott, 03 Aug 1885; citing Death, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,373,972.
- "AGITATION TO ABOLISH LONG RACES BECAUSE OF BRUTALITY - Marathon Races in Boston, Chicago and St. Louis Come Under Criticism on Ground That Participants Never Recover From the Strain to Which They Are Subjected by the Gruelling Contests". Elmira Gazette and Free Press. June 4, 1906. p. 3. Retrieved April 18, 2017.
- Falls, Joe (1977). The Boston Marathon. New York: Macmillan. p. 163. ISBN 0-02-028520-5.
- Sweeney, Lawrence J (April 19, 1914). "AMERICA'S FAMOUS DISTANCE MEN MEET IN MARATHON RUN TOMORROW". The Boston Daily Globe. p. 42. Retrieved July 9, 2016.
- "PREPARING FOR THE MARATHON". The Boston Daily Globe. April 11, 1909. p. 44. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
- McCabe, Tom (April 17, 1927). "188 Runners, Five Behind Record, Are Already Entered in 31st American Marathon". Boston Herald. p. 32. Retrieved April 1, 2017.
- Fulton, Lindsay (2017-04-17). "Crowdsourcing". Vita Brevis. Retrieved 2022-08-24.
- "New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:27BT-RDN : 20 March 2015), Julia M. Fitzpatrick, 20 Nov 1905; citing Death, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,323,102.
- Martin, David E.; Gynn, Roger W. H. (1979). The Marathon Footrace: Performers and Performances. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas. pp. 8–9. ISBN 0-398-03883-X.
- "GREAT ATHLETIC EVENT - THREE NEW ONES MADE AT THE KNICKERBOCKER MEETING. Burke Lowers the World's Time for the 600-Yard Run, and Jerome Buck for the 440-Yard Hurdle - A Gallant Marathon Race over Terrible Country Roads - New Record for Discus Throwing - Big Crowd at Columbia Oval". The New York Times. September 20, 1896. p. 6. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
- Farey, Hugh (July 29, 2009). "1896 Marathon". America's Running Routes. USA Track & Field. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
- "RECORDS BROKEN AT KNICKERBOCKER MEET - Sheldon, of Yale, Threw the Discus 111 Feet 8 Inches. A REMARKABLE FEAT - Burke Ran 600 Yards in 1:11 - McDermott Won the Twenty-five-Mile Marathon Race in Good Time - Other Winners". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, New York. September 20, 1896. p. 14. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
- Martin, David E.; Gynn, Roger W. H. (1979). The Marathon Footrace: Performers and Performances. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas. pp. 9–10. ISBN 0-398-03883-X.
- Derderian, Tom (1994). Boston Marathon: The History of the World's Premier Running Event. Champaign IL: Human Kinetics. pp. 5–7. ISBN 0-87322-491-4.
- "RECORD TIME. J.J. McDermott Wins the "Marathon" Race. Belongs to Pastime A.C., New York. Takes Lead at Newton Lower Falls. Grant and Gray Had Led Till Then. Harvard Man Runs Pluckily After Being Overhauled. Kiernan Finishes Second and Rhell Third. Cheers for the Runners Al the Way from Ashland". The Boston Daily Globe. April 20, 1897. pp. 1, 7. Retrieved 20 Jun 2016.
- Derderian, Tom (1994). Boston Marathon: The History of the World's Premier Running Event. Champaign IL: Human Kinetics. pp. 8–10. ISBN 0-87322-491-4.