For a decade, Bill Rodgers was an indomitable force on the U.S. and world road-racing scene. He is a four-time winner of both the New York City Marathon and the Boston Marathon, set many American records (several of which still stand), and was the year’s top-ranked marathoner in the world three times.
Boston Billy Raised in Newington, CT, Rodgers started running on his high school’s cross country team. In 1968, while studying at Wesleyan University, where he also ran for the school team, he shared a dorm room with that year’s Boston Marathon winner, Amby Burfoot. After graduation, Rodgers took a break from running. He returned to the sport in 1973, and in his international debut, he won the bronze medal at the 1975 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, equaling the highest finish by any American in international cross country competition. In that same year, he won the Boston Marathon for the first time, setting a course and American record of 2:09:55 despite stopping to tie his shoe twice during the race. Rodgers’ success on the Boston course, which included another American record in 1979, earned him the nickname “Boston Billy,” but he could as easily have been Big Apple Billy: He won the inaugural five-borough New York City Marathon on October 24, 1976, and returned to New York to win in each of the next three years.
After an injury hobbled him in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games Marathon, Rodgers continued his remarkable domination at major road races. In 1977, he became the first person in history to simultaneously hold the Boston, New York City, and Fukuoka marathon titles; he remains the only person to have achieved this feat. Track and Field News ranked him the #1 marathoner in the world in 1975, 1977, and 1979. In 1978, Rodgers won 27 of the 30 races he entered, and he set a new world-best time for 10 kilometers on the road. He remains the American record-holder on the track for 15,000 meters, 20,000 meters, 25,000 meters, 30,000 meters, and the one-hour run. His 25,000-meter mark—1:14:11.8, set in 1979—also broke the existing world record.
On A longtime member of the Greater Boston Track Club, Rodgers earned a master’s degree in special education from Boston College, and he opened the Bill Rodgers Running Center in Boston in 1977. In 1989, 10 years after Rodgers’ fourth and final New York City Marathon victory, New York Road Runners presented him with the Abebe Bikila Award in recognition of his contributions to long-distance running. Ten years later, he was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. Rodgers is noted for saying that “the marathon can humble you,” but his long drives to the finish line, breaking away early from his competitors in New York, Boston, and beyond, illustrated another of his famous sentiments: “If you want to win a race, you have to go a little berserk.”
|1976||30 kilometers||1:29:04 (former unofficial world record)|
|1979||Marathon||2:09:27 (former American record)|