Thomas Charles Longboat
World Championship Iroquois Marathoner
TOM LONGBOAT, who became Canada’s most celebrated marathon runner, grew up in a world stimulated by the revival of the Olympic Games. In 1896, when he was nine years of age, the first marathon of the modern era took place at the Olympics held in Athens, Greece.
Labelled by a cross-section of international sportswriters as one of the greatest marathon runners prior to World War I, Tom Longboat, an Onandagan from Ohsweken, Ontario, dominated long distance races between 1906 and 1912 [C.J. Humber Collection]
Early in his life it became clear that Longboat had the ability to become a great runner. By 1910 he was widely recognized as one of Canada’s leading athletes. His crowning achievement came in 1909 when he was proclaimed Professional Champion of the World after winning a marathon in New York’s Madison Square Gardens in which he defeated the world’s best runners including Alf Shrubb from Great Britain.
Longboat was born at Ohsweken, on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario, on July 4, 1887. His Onondaga Indian name was Cogwagee. When he began to race competitively, he developed the ability to call upon an energy reserve that enabled him to sprint just before the finish line. This became the outstanding feature of his racing style.
Longboat’s first important road race took place in 1906 when he won the “Around the Bay” marathon in Hamilton, Ontario. Winning that event made him an instant celebrity and clearly established him as one of the favourites for any long-distance race he would enter. When he won the 1907 Boston Marathon in the record time of 2:25:004, he became the world’s premier marathoner. He also won Toronto’s famous Ward’s Island Marathon from 1906 through 1908.
Before winning the world famous Boston Marathon in 1907, Tom Longboat was unsuccessfully challenged by Lewis Edwin Marsh at Hamilton’s popular Irish-Canadian Games as this view indicates. A former aid and coach of Longboat, Marsh is best remembered each year as Canada’s top male and female athletes are presented with the annual Lou Marsh Trophy [C.J. Humber Collection]
He entered the Olympic marathon in London, England, in 1908 but unfortunately collapsed after twenty miles as did a second runner, Dorado Pietri. Rumours spread that they had been using drugs to improve their performance, especially since Longboat’s handlers had told numerous people that their runner was certain to win.
Returning to Canada, Longboat determined to take personal charge of his training. This led to conflict with his managers. However, Longboat stuck to his own training regime despite racist criticisms. He bought out his own contract and began to run better than ever. For him, his way of training was obviously superior. In 1912, after turning professional, he set the record of one hour, eighteen minutes and ten seconds for 15 miles - seven minutes faster than his old amateur record!
In racing there are always rivals. Alf Shrubb was Longboat’s. When Shrubb immigrated to Canada from Great Britain in 1909, he held every record in 2-mile to 10-mile distance running. In 1905 Shrubb had been declared a professional and thus disqualified himself for the Olympics. However, Shrubb and Longboat raced against each other ten different times. Longboat won three times when the distance was longer than 20 miles; Shrubb won the distances between 10 and 16 miles. Longboat’s ability to call on his reserve after the 20-mile mark obviously set him apart from Shrubb, the recognized professional world champion middle-distance runner of his day.
During World War I Longboat served as a dispatch runner in France and raced professionally as often as possible. After the war Longboat returned to Canada and settled in Toronto where he worked until 1944. He retired to the Six Nations Reserve and died of pneumonia on January 9, 1949.
Longboat’s achievements as a marathoner, prior to World War I, brought him recognition as one of Canada’s greatest athletes. On July 17, 1985, Parks Canada unveiled a plaque at the Six Nations Sports Centre commemorating his superb career as one of the world’s premier Marathon runners.
This photo is on page 16 in Alfred’s 2nd book, Long Distance Running by Alfred Shrubb