25th July 2019

Athletic heritage of Vienna

Vienna has a rich running culture that can be traced back almost three centuries to when the imperial court and many nobles had “runners” among their servants.  These reconnoitred carriage routes or cleared the way for their masters in the city.

In the 18th century a workers’ association was formed. Young runners had to undergo a Free Run as a test. They had to cover a distance of 18 kilometres in one hour and 12 minutes, averaging four minutes per kilometre.  

The first foot races were held in Vienna as early as 1740 and from around 1820, The Prater took centre stage in proceedings. On May 1 each year a race known as the great Running Festival would be held over eight to nine kilometres to the accompaniment of a military band. Grandstands were erected for the paying public and thousands of spectators attended.

In more modern times, the running track at the Vienna LAZ (Vienna Athletics Centre), also in The Prater was the venue for an astonishing performance on June 11 1978 when Kenyan Henry Rono set a new 10,000m world record of 27 minutes 22.5 seconds. One of Rono’s pacemakers that day was Jos Hermens who is now the CEO of Global Sports Communication – the management agency of Eliud Kipchoge.

Since 1984, every April Vienna has also hosted Austria’s biggest mass-participation sporting event, the Vienna City Marathon. 40,000 runners take part in the race every year with an estimated 400,000 spectators.

A Vienna-born athletics coach also contributed strongly to an early athletic achievement that no one believed possible – the breaking of the four-minute mile.

Legendary coach Franz Stampfl was the brains behind the four-minute-mile acting as an adviser to Roger Bannister and as the coach to both his pacemakers, Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway. 

The INEOS 1:59 Challenge course.


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